Federal Court KEEPS Steelhead Protections

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Federal Court KEEPS Steelhead Protections

Postby Richard » Wed May 19, 2004 6:49 am


Fresno, CA - A U.S. District Court judge rejected an attempt by Central
Valley irrigators to strip protected status from wild Central Valley
steelhead trout. While deferring to the National Marine Fisheries
Service's (NMFS) on-going review of the fish's status, the Court ruled that wild steelhead will remain federally protected during the time it takes to
complete that process. The Court found that "[t]he scientific evidence…
indicates that the fish faces serious and irreparable harm if removed
from the list and that, given its numbers, its listing is likely to be
preserved after the review and update."

Earthjustice represented the seven groups arguing on behalf of wild
steelhead protection, including Northern California Council of the
Federation of Fly Fishers, Federation of Fly Fishers, Delta Fly
Fishers, Trout Unlimited, Center for Biological Diversity, Woodbridge Rivers
Company, and Pacific Rivers Council.

The irrigation district lawsuit argued that steelhead born and raised
in hatcheries must be included with wild steelhead when considering
endangered species status. "It's now up to NMFS to follow the science and continue to protect wild steelhead," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited. "Steelhead in the Central Valley have been lost from 95% of their historic habitat, and they continue to face threats from unchecked water use, blockage by dams, urban sprawl, and polluted rivers. The bottom line is this: without adequate ESA protection, steelhead recovery simply won't stand a chance."

The steelhead in the Central Valley once returned every year from the
ocean to the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems in great numbers. According to a report released in 2003, federal scientists are "highly concerned" that Central Valley steelhead populations continue to decline. In addition, the Court agreed with the conservation and fishing groups that NMFS never determined that rainbow trout and steelhead in the Central Valley should be considered together.

"Anyone who's ever been lucky enough to see or catch a steelhead in the
wild knows they're a special fish," said, Norm Ploss of the Northern
California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers and its Wild Steelhead
Committee. "The irrigators didn't bring this case because they were interested in protecting rainbow trout. They wanted to use rainbow trout to allow more water diversions from Central Valley rivers."

The case was the latest in a concerted effort by developers, irrigation
and agribusiness interests, and others to strip federal Endangered Species
Act protections from salmon and steelhead stocks up and down the Pacific
coast following a controversial district court opinion in September 2001. The ruling found that under the agency's then-existing guidance, artificially bred hatchery fish could not be ignored in ESA listing decisions. Treating hatchery fish as the equivalent of wild fish when making listing decisions has been widely criticized by scientists, conservationists, and fishermen.

Just last year, a National Marine Fisheries biological review team
concluded that the Central Valley run should properly be upgraded from threatened to endangered status, since less than 1% of the historical wild steelhead run remains. Hatchery fish are contributing to the declines of wild steelhead by introducing disease, changing the genetics of wild fish, and competing for scarce resources."

Contact: Norm Ploss, Northern California Council Federation of Fly
Fishers, (831) 588-3817 ndeanploss@aol.com

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