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[1] NMFS Unveils Proposals For New ESA Listing Policy
[2] Oregon Council Member Fired By His Governor
[3] PacifiCorp Asks FERC To OK Condit Dam Removal Or Do Nothing
[4] NMFS To Action Agencies: Hydro BiOp Largely On Track
[5] Enviros Push NMFS To Designate Critical Habitat For West Coast Fish
[6] Researcher's Model Says Hatcheries Select For Less Fit Fish In Wild
[7] NMFS Concedes Need For Harvest EIS For Puget Sound

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Conservative lawyers and Indian tribes were dismayed, but environmentalists were generally encouraged after NMFS released a working draft of its new policy on listing salmon and steelhead populations under terms of the Endangered Species Act. The new policy has been under development since the National Marine Fisheries Service decided not to appeal a federal court decision that found fault with the way the agency considered hatchery stocks in listing decisions.

Last year, Judge Michael Hogan of the US District Court in Oregon threw out an ESA listing for Oregon coastal coho. Hogan ruled that NMFS had violated the ESA by designating some hatchery stocks as part of the listed coho evolutionarily significant unit, but not giving them the same level of protection as the wild component of that ESU. The judge said the ESA doesn't allow for making such distinctions when the fish are genetically the same.

Since then, many petitions have been filed with NMFS to de-list most West Coast salmon and steelhead stocks. Hogan's ruling has also been appealed by environmental groups to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. But NMFS intends to play by Hogan's rules, even though his ruling has been stayed by the Niners during the appeal.

"The new policy is intended to ensure, in accordance with the Court's ruling, that hatchery populations are considered in determining whether or not to list an ESU under the ESA," NMFS regional administrator Bob Lohn wrote in a July 23 letter to co-managers that accompanied the agency's draft policy, which is being circulated throughout the region for comment.

NMFS now proposes to determine the hatchery and wild components of an ESU before assessing its status under the ESA. Previously, the agency identified the natural component of an ESU first, then determined which hatchery stocks were part of it.

Those groups seeking de-listings by adding hatchery fish returns to wild fish numbers were not comforted by the new proposal because it still calls for extinction risk to be based on "the likelihood that an ESU as a whole is sustaining itself through natural reproduction in its natural ecosystem over the long term."

"The NMFS proposal violates the spirit of the Hogan decision," said Russell Brooks, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, the property rights group that took NMFS to court over the Oregon coho listing. "I am absolutely shocked."

Brooks said the balance of legislative history weighs against the proposed policy. "It's hard to believe a majority of Congress intended for bureaucrats to be separating fish in a creek." He said the agency's citation of studies that accompanied the draft policy seems "one-sided," with most supporting the notion that hatchery fish are genetically different from wild fish from the same stock. "I am concerned that Lohn is handcuffed by a lot of bureaucrats and scientists leaning to the environmentalists' side," Brooks said.

Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who is leading the Hogan appeal for environmental groups, said they were pleased with NMFS for basing the proposed listing policy on wild salmon, but they still had some differences. "Hatchery fish should never be used in a listing," she told NW Fishletter.

In its proposal, NMFS said it will consider "both positive and negative effects" of artificial propagation in ESA status reviews and listing determinations. "This consideration will be given in the context of whether artificial propagation represents a protective effort that provides a genetic reserve for the ESU, contributes to the long-term self-sustainability of the ESU in the natural ecosystem, or reduces threats to the ESU through the reform of harmful hatchery practices," Lohn said in his letter.

NMFS mentioned some issues with hatcheries in a Q-and-A sheet that accompanied the draft policy. The agency said supplementation--the strategy of increasing wild populations with fish raised in hatcheries--"has been shown to be effective in bolstering the numbers of naturally spawning fish in the short term under certain conditions. However, the premise that salmon supplementation can be used to provide a net long-term benefit to natural populations remains an untested hypothesis. This does not mean, however, that artificial propagation cannot provide this type of benefit, and NOAA fisheries is open to the future possibility."

But Columbia Basin Indian tribes, long supporters of the fish supplementation strategy, were cool toward the proposed policy. "This is a working draft of a listing policy, not an artificial propagation policy," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "But it looks disturbingly like the old standard policy." He said it was evident from the studies cited by NMFS that the agency had failed to consider a broader body of literature that was more objective on the issue of fish supplementation. He said his commission's staff was beginning work on an extensive set of comments on the draft policy.

Lohn said that guidance for operating hatchery programs is distinct from considering existing hatchery programs in ESA listing decisions, and that such guidance will be addressed separately this summer after consultation with tribal, state and federal co-managers.

Portland attorney James Buchal, who filed de-listing petitions on behalf of several groups throughout the Northwest in the wake of the Hogan decision, is unhappy with the proposed policy. "NMFS still refuses to answer the simple question posed by the ESA," Buchal told NW Fishletter. "Is this species going to go extinct or not? Instead, NMFS puts forth a pile of qualitative mush under which, even if the extinction risk for the species is zero, NMFS may list species as endangered to build its protect-the-ecosystem empire. This may or may not be a legally permissible interpretation of the ESA, but it is surely not one compelled by law. It's a political choice, and those who voted for Bush instead of Gore have been betrayed."

Olympia attorney Jim Johnson, who has led an effort to de-list Puget Sound chinook and several other stocks in a Washington, DC, lawsuit (Common Sense Salmon Recovery vs. NMFS), said he was confused by the draft policy. It claims to build on the Hogan ruling and the best available science, "but the draft continues to be a rationalization for past policies," he said. "We've already filed with the court in DC all the genetic data, and it doesn't support NMFS, nor what they propose."

Johnson said analysis of the genetic information on Puget Sound stocks finally supplied by NMFS shows hatchery fish to be identical to wild stocks, and excluding them from the ESU is contrary to the best scientific data. He noted that the fish agency has filed a motion to strike his analysis of the genetic data from the record, arguing that parties should defer to the agency's scientific analysis. Johnson said his analysis was completed by a well-known environmental consulting firm, LGL Limited.

NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said co-managers have two weeks to get comments back to the agency. Then a public draft will be released and discussed in public meetings throughout the West Coast. NMFS will take general comments and incorporate them in a final rule governing the hatchery listing policy. After that, NMFS will complete the status reviews of all listed salmonids without any specific time frame for finishing the process. "After the co-manager comments come in two weeks, everything else is pretty much up in the air," Gorman said. -Bill Rudolph


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has removed eastern Oregon rancher John Brogoitti from the Northwest Power Planning Council. In an Aug. 5 letter to Brogoitti, Kitzhaber said he had lost confidence in his representative "to carry out the policy objectives of my Administration." Brogoitti told NW Fishletter that he will request a public hearing to respond to the governor's reasons for his removal.

Brogoitti said that Gov. Kitzhaber offered him a deal last Friday. "He wanted a letter of apology and resignation, and then he'd give me all kinds of accolades," said the frustrated Council member.

The letter from Gov. Kitzhaber came after Brogoitti sent a second statement to several newspapers that re-iterated the message of his July 29 press release that suggested Kitzhaber was still trying to replace the Council with a new governing body. According to the July 29 press release, Brogoitti concluded his governor's position--that Oregon was unfairly passed over for the council's chairmanship this year "possibly because of its overtly environmental policies"--was "a red herring to divert attention from an entirely different agenda."

In his latest remarks, Brogoitti said his governor's dissatisfaction with the council's process for election of its chair was "a smoke screen behind which he intended to revive the Three Sovereigns concept to replace the Power Council." He said Gov. Kitzhaber was using "false accusations of discrimination" to try and garner support from the state legislature to pull Oregon from the council. "Few will understand how it saddened me to speak out publicly against a man I respected and thought of as a friend," Brogoitti said, adding that he can't be fired for representing the geographic area he was appointed to represent.

A Question of Priorities

The Oregon Power Council representative said his governor's priorities are wrong, mentioning the specter of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. Criticizing what he termed Kitzhaber's "totally green agenda," Brogoitti said "agriculture and industry must come first if we are going to survive. When we secure our land from terrorism, then we have something to steward."

"No one else wants to be the one to say it because it isn't politically correct, but if it ever comes down to a choice between a suckerfish and one of my grandchildren, I am going with the kid," he said, alluding to the water and fish dispute in the Klamath Basin.

The final meltdown between Brogoitti and his governor came after the council amended its bylaws in January to elect Washington member Larry Cassidy to a third term as chair. Kitzhaber then sent letters to other Northwest governors trying to gain support for a mandatory rotation of the chairmanship But the governors reported back that they were satisfied with the status quo, which gave council members the ability to vote for the strongest leader. Oregon then suggested it might leave the council if it didn't get the chairmanship.

During last month's Power Council meeting in Yakima, WA, council members decided to settle the rotation issue and voted 6-2 against a motion by Brogoitti to table a vote on the issue.

Brogoitti's heart apparently wasn't in the fight. "I'm tired of being a lackey for the governor," Brogoitti told NW Fishletter last week, a remark he made to other reporters last week as well.

Kitzhaber's office was quick to respond. "We can relieve him of that burden," said Kitzhaber spokesman Tom Towslee. "God only knows what Mr. Brogoitti is thinking, in this outburst of his." Towslee said Brogoitti's July 29 remarks were totally unexpected. "We heard about them from a reporter," he said. Brogoitti was asked to resign. He refused.

After a recent meeting with Kitzhaber and fellow Oregon council member Erich Bloch, Brogoitti said he had offered to seek election to the council chair himself. According to Brogoitti's press release, the governor "rebuffed him, stating that 'the chairmanship is not the issue.'" Brogoitti said he had advised the governor twice in the past six months that Bloch, who had been the council's vice chair last year, hadn't been considered for the chairmanship because of personality conflicts, not "state-related issues."

If the chairmanship isn't the issue, Brogoitti speculated in his press release, Kitzhaber may be trying to make another push to shelve the council and revive a process like the defunct Three Sovereigns, also known as the Columbia River Forum, which attempted to develop a new form of governance for the basin in which states, federal agencies and tribal governments would share decision-making over power, fish and wildlife decisions. The process died after months of meetings failed to coordinate efforts of tribal representatives, federal agencies and state policy makers. By then, other stakeholders--mainly power and water users led by state legislators--sided against the process, which likely would have taken authority away from them and wreaked havoc with state-issued water rights.

"Brogoitti sees great danger in this and is taking action to alert local situations of the issue," said his press release. He told NW Fishletter that he didn't know what else to suspect the governor was up to.

Kitzhaber spokesman Towslee admitted the Oregon governor is still interested in alternatives to the council process that would put fish and wildlife issues on an equal footing with power concerns, even though he was "still pretty much by himself."

According to an article published on the Oregon Public Broadcasting Web site, Kitzhaber advisor Louise Solliday said the governor hadn't approached the Oregon delegation with a proposal yet, but that it wasn't out of the question. Brogoitti mentioned the article in his own press release.

Basin tribes said they hadn't heard of any recent push to dump the council. "We are in regular contact with the governor's office here in Oregon," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, "but we have not discussed any return to the Three Sovereigns process."

Hudson said the tribes weren't going to get involved in the dispute between Kitzhaber and Brogoitti, but he suggested that the governor consider Umatilla tribal leader Antone Minthorn as a new council member. "It would be hard for us to think of a better choice," Hudson said.

With important council votes likely coming in September over mainstem amendments to the council's fish and wildlife plan, Brogoitti said he hopes he can "hang on until those amendments come through." Montana and Idaho members are expected to offer recommendations that would conflict with current hydro operations, but offer more flexibility, they say. Some of the recommendations may be available for discussion by next month's meeting in Helena.

"I'm not going out with my head down," Brogoitti said. Gov. Kitzhaber "can't fire me without just cause." Other than exercising his First Amendment right, Brogoitti said he doesn't know what he's done wrong. He said he didn't want to see farmers, river users and processors "beaten up on" any more than they already have been by the economic downturn.

The Oregon council member said he had been cut off from Kitzhaber's office "a lot" and pointed to his split with the governor over dam breaching on the lower Snake River as an issue that pushed them apart. "It's frustrating to me to have a governor who says he's for all of Oregon when it's obvious he's not," Brogoitti said.

In a major address just last April before the American Fisheries Society, Kitzhaber raised the dam breaching issue again. He said costs of non-breach strategies were similar to or greater than those of taking out the four dams. "Some will say it is too controversial. I say, what isn't?" said Kitzhaber at the time. "Who here thinks that it is not controversial to cut harvest levels? To change agricultural and timber practices on private land or to significantly augment flows?"

Much of Kitzhaber's April speech was reportedly written by Oregon's other council member, Eric Bloch. Bloch himself has stumped hard for more flows and spill for fish, especially during last year's drought, when most other council members, including Brogoitti were focused on maintaining a reliable power supply for the Northwest.

But Oregon's two members have been at odds for some time. In testimony he gave to a Senate committee in September 2000, Bloch said Oregon saw scientific merit in more flow augmentation and spill for the hydro system, and suggested the region purchase 2 MAF from Canada to aid fish migrations. He also called for more study of drawdown at John Day Pool and other major reservoirs in the system.

The Grey Area

Whether Brogoitti can still serve and vote until a public hearing is concluded is a "gray area" of state law, say several attorneys familiar with the situation. They feel that Brogoitti would no longer be a council member after receiving the letter. The Oregon Attorney General's office was still trying to sort out the situation last week.

Towslee admitted that it may be difficult for Kitzhaber to replace Brogoitti before he leaves office next January, since the Republican-controlled Oregon Senate must confirm any appointee. But he also said Oregon's having a vacant seat didn't seem to be a pressing problem for the council, since it could conduct its affairs pretty much the same way whether the state had one vote or two, as Oregon has had a diminished role in council affairs anyway.

Meanwhile, Brogoitti, a conservative Democrat, wasn't giving up. He was considering changing parties "in order to garner the support necessary to stay on the council and counter any efforts to convince Congress to change the current system of balancing power generation with fish and wildlife issues in the Pacific Northwest."

Before his latest remarks were sent to several regional newspapers, Brogoitti had garnered support last week from the Vancouver Columbian and the Pendleton East Oregonian. Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council said he didn't know what happened between Brogoitti and his governor, but his group's charge includes representing both agricultural interests and Bonneville ratepayers. "We are glad to know those interests are protected. Industry needs to stand by and thank him for his loyalty."

Brogoitti said he plans on attending the Power Planning Council meeting in Helena, Montana next week as a participating member of the four-state compact. -B. R.


PacifiCorp is proceeding with plans to remove its Condit Dam, with the blessing of 21 government agencies, tribes and environmental groups that signed a settlement agreement with the company in 1999. Now, the company's biggest challenges are persuading the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the dam removal agreement, obtaining at least two major permits for the project and keeping the cost of removal down.

PacifiCorp asked FERC in a request filed July 26 to either amend the company's original dam license to include the removal agreement, or to refrain from acting on the proposal until PacifiCorp has a chance to get outstanding permits, figure out its costs and complete other components of the settlement agreement.

PacifiCorp is pursuing a Section 401 water quality certification from the Washington State Department of Ecology and a Section 404 water quality certification from the US Army Corps of Engineers, both as provisions of the settlement agreement. The company expects to get its permits and complete its cost analyses by Dec. 31, 2005, and is hoping that FERC won't put new demands on the project before then.

"There's a lot of momentum for this settlement agreement," said Dave Kvamme, a PacifiCorp spokesman. "What we're trying to do is ensure that the settlement agreement is implemented as it was agreed to."

PacifiCorp signed a formal agreement in September 1999 with the Yakama Nation, environmental groups and government agencies to remove the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in southwestern Washington. The agreement ended a 10-year effort by the company to relicense the project. PacifiCorp decided to retire the project, rather than spend upwards of $28 million to install fish ladders and screens, a relicensing requirement ordered by FERC. Instead, PacifiCorp agreed to spend up to $13.65 million, in 1999 dollars, to remove the dam and its facilities, and about $2 million for permitting and mitigation. The company also agreed to contribute $1 million to the Yakama Nation Fishery Enhancement Fund and $500,000 to an enhancement fund for a tribal "in-lieu" site, held in trust by the federal government for four local treaty fishing tribes.

In a final supplemental final environmental impact statement FERC released on June 27, FERC staff endorsed the provisions of the Condit Dam removal settlement agreement, but with "modifications." In addition to the removal and mitigation measures PacifiCorp agreed to in 1999, FERC staff suggested that the company also develop and implement nine additional plans, including a petroleum and hazardous substances control plan for construction and land-disturbing activities associated with removing the dam; a plan to assess the Northwestern Lake reservoir after the dam has been removed and the reservoir has been dewatered; and a plan to capture chinook and coho salmon and steelhead adults and place them in a spawning program prior to dam removal to ensure population survival. FERC staff estimated that the additional measures would cost about $50,000 to implement.

PacifiCorp declined to comment on FERC's final supplemental EIS, pending a response the company plans to file with the commission. But Kvamme said PacifiCorp is concerned that if the commission were to include one or more FERC staff modifications in a final order, it could delay or even derail the settlement agreement. If the agreement were terminated, PacifiCorp would restart the relicensing proceeding begun in 1991 that ended with the settlement agreement in 1999.

PacifiCorp asked FERC in 1999 to approve the settlement agreement and include it as an amendment to the company's license for the Condit Dam. But FERC apparently balked at the notion, as commissioners did not want to approve a plan that had the potential to change. In last month's filing, PacifiCorp repeated its request regarding amending the license. But the company also offered FERC an alternative: to defer action on the dam and settlement agreement until all permit and cost contingencies are resolved, by or before December 2005. PacifiCorp has asked for annual licenses to operate the dam through 2006, when the company plans to dismantle the project.

PacifiCorp consulted with the settlement parties before filing its request with FERC. American Rivers, among the other parties to the agreement, supports PacifiCorp's recent FERC filing and views it as a way to keep the settlement agreement and removal process on track.

"We need this settlement to remain whole," said Brett Swift, associate director for American Rivers' Northwest hydropower program. "We're really just asking for a couple of years...[so] that PacifiCorp can get the necessary permits and move forward so we don't have to go back to relicensing."

To remove the dam, a 12-foot-high, 18-foot-wide, low-level drain tunnel would be drilled and blasted at the concrete base of the dam. River water would rush through the tunnel at about 10,000 cubic feet per second, and would lower the reservoir behind the dam to stream level in about six hours. The project facilities would be removed before the drilling and blasting, and large chunks of concrete would be removed afterwards using methods developed in rock quarrying. -Cassandra Sweet


The National Marines Fisheries Service has released its report on implementation of the federal hydro system's 2000 BiOp that calls for 199 different actions over the next 10 years to improve survival of ESA-listed salmonids.

The agency said 173 of the actions are largely on track to meet benchmarks for improving hydro operations, habitat conditions, hatcheries and harvest to restore weak runs of fish. The agencies responsible for implementing the actions are BPA, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

BPA administrator Steve Wright said his agency was encouraged that the recovery effort was off to a good start despite the drought and power emergencies of last year.

NMFS regional administrator Bob Lohn said the findings report was more like a teacher's conference than a report card. "Our role is to support and guide this collaborative effort to achieve success," Lohn said.

The report did say that planning efforts in some areas were off to a slow start, mainly developing infrastructure, identifying agency responsibilities for implementing habitat measures and research, monitoring and evaluation measures. NMFS is required to issue a findings report each year to determine whether the BiOp is being adequately implemented. -B. R.


Environmental and fishing groups have said they intend to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service unless it comes up with new critical habitat designations for ESA-listed West Coast stocks soon. NMFS rescinded the previous designations as part of an April consent decree in a lawsuit (Home Builders Association v. Evans) filed by home builders and says it may take up to two years to come up with new designations.

The environmental groups, which had amica status in the lawsuit, suggest that the agency take only six months to complete the task from the time the consent decree was approved April 30. The ESA says agencies have one year to designate critical habitat after a species is listed. "These deadlines have long since come and gone," says the 'intend to sue' letter.

"We propose that NMFS commit to designate critical habitat for the 20 ESUs within six months from approval of the consent decree," says the letter. "If NMFS will commit to a date certain for the designations, we will not pursue litigation. However, if NMFS will not commit to remedy these violations by such a date certain, then we intend to file a lawsuit seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against NMFS to remedy these violations."

US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled April 30 in Washington DC that the feds can vacate their original designations of critical habitat for 19 listed stocks of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast and start all over again. The plaintiffs in the case went to court in November 1999, arguing that the designations were overly vague and failed to consider economic impacts as required by the ESA.

In March, NMFS agreed with the plaintiffs, citing a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision (New Mexico Cattle Growers vs. USFWS) that found the federal analysis of habitat for a listed bird species did not properly take economics into account. NMFS' policy for fish is similar to the US Fish and Wildlife Service's critical habitat designation for the southwest willow flycatcher, which the Tenth Circuit set aside, remanding the designation for completion of an economic analysis. Prior to agreeing with the plaintiffs, NMFS had justified its analyses earlier by simply ignoring economic effects.

Since NMFS had designated all of the fishes' current range as critical habitat, that meant all federal agencies had to consult with the fisheries agency before they considered any action that might jeopardize listed stocks. "NMFS does not anticipate that the designation will result in significant additional requirements for non-Federal interests," the agency said in the Federal Register.

The plaintiffs took issue with this approach in a memo last fall, arguing that NMFS designated all accessible reaches of rivers as critical habitat, whether the areas were occupied by ESA-listed fish or not. The memo pointed out that NMFS' own words in the Federal Register considered barriers such as culverts and irrigation diversion dams as "ephemeral...that the agency does not view as impassable structures."

Environmental groups had cited a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Sierra Club vs. USFWS) that contrasted with the Tenth Circuit's decision on the definition of jeopardy and adverse modification. They said the Tenth Circuit was wrong because it relied on a definition that "fails to recognize the distinct statutory benefits that can be provided by a listing and the designation of critical habitat, especially where the designation encompasses habitat beyond the species' present range." -B. R.


Using hatcheries to recover wild salmon by supplementing their numbers with artificially propagated fish has become the new solution for saving salmon on the West Coast, but a NMFS researcher has developed a model that shows there may be fundamental problems with this approach. Michael Ford's paper in Conservation Biology (Vol. 16, No. 3, 815-825) says the strategy may not work even if wild fish are constantly introduced into the hatchery environment.

"I explicitly explored this two-population scenario," says Ford, "and found that substantial phenotypic changes (changes in behavior characteristics such as run timing, distribution and courtship) and fitness (survival) reductions can occur even if a large fraction of the captive broodstock is brought in from the wild every generation. This suggests that regularly bringing wild-origin broodstock into captive breeding populations cannot be relied upon to eliminate the effects of inadvertent domestication selection."

However, Ford pointed out that the rate and level of domestication will be reduced compared with hatcheries that operate as completely closed systems, relying only upon a returning hatchery stock for breeders.

He said there are two interesting implications to this finding. "First, it means that wild-origin breeders are important to a population's viability in the wild even in cases where the wild population is not able to sustain itself without the aid of supportive breeding." And he found that "the dependence on the potential reproductive rate in the wild environment means that conserving or restoring a population's habitat (or addressing other factors that limit the population's reproductive rate) may be the most effective method of preventing phenotypic change during supportive breeding."

Ford's model explored scenarios of fish populations that had reproductive rates below replacement, which means the wild salmon would go extinct without supportive breeding supplied by a hatchery. He said that it is important to control the rate of exchange between hatchery and wild populations in order to limit domestication of wild populations. He noted that in situations where hatchery fish are used to support a wild population, it may be impossible to actually keep the hatchery fish numbers low. Given enough time, hatchery fish could then transform a wild population by changing the phenotypic characteristics important to its survival in nature. Ford said one could expect "phenotypic changes and fitness loss in wild populations even at low rates of introgression. -Bill Bakke


NMFS has settled a lawsuit brought against the fisheries agency last year by Washington Trout over its harvest plan for Puget Sound chinook, where wild stocks are listed as threatened under the ESA. The agency has agreed to put off final approval of its harvest plan until 2004 while it writes an environmental impact statement and a biological opinion on the plan.

The conservation organization says this is the first time NMFS has voluntarily agreed to prepare a full EIS on a salmon harvest plan. The agency had originally approved the Puget Sound plan in 2001 in an agreement with WDFW and Puget Sound Treaty Tribes.

The agreement calls for fishing to continue under the previous arrangement approved by NMFS while the new plan is being completed, exempt from ESA enforcement. Washington Trout had called for the previous agreement to be voided, which could have halted fishing, but compromised on the point. The group says it's doubtful that the region's chinook could recover without stricter harvest regimes.

Plaintiffs' attorney Richard Smith said the agreement was very significant. "NMFS has acknowledged that salmon harvest needs to be more rigorously analyzed and regulated than it has been, " Smith said.

NMFS has been working for over four years on a harvest EIS that began with Columbia River listed stocks, and has been expanded to cover the West Coast. The action was prescribed by the Ninth Circuit Court in a September 1996 ruling that reversed an earlier decision by Oregon District Court Judge Malcolm Marsh. A public draft is expected in about a month, said NMFS analyst Robert Bayley. He said it doesn't include an assessment of Puget Sound harvest issues. -B. R.

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