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NW Fishletter #329, March 13, 2014

[7] Groups Want Sandy Hatchery To Stop Releasing Fish

Two conservation groups filed a motion in the U.S. District Court on Feb. 14 to prevent the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from releasing any smolts at the Sandy River Hatchery until an environmental impact statement is completed on hatchery operations and a new genetic management plan is approved.

However, the groups want the state to keep operating weirs that keep returning hatchery adults from reaching spawning grounds of natural-origin fish.

The EIS would be completed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled Jan. 16 that the federal fish agency erred when it completed a less-stringent environmental assessment of ODFW's plan to reduce impacts to wild chinook, steelhead and coho in the Sandy River Basin. The judge said the agency should have examined several alternatives, given the uncertainty of the projected outcomes.

The Native Fish Society and McKenzie Flyfishers also asked the judge to rescind the BiOp that approved hatchery operations and issue a new one. The groups said the judge should also vacate the feds' earlier decision that had approved the genetic management plan and environmental assessment that NMFS had used to reach a finding of no significant impact, "because they are arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law."

The groups also want NMFS to be permanently enjoined from using any federal funds from the Mitchell Act to be used at the Sandy Hatchery or another facility that produces smolts for release in the Sandy, except for operation of the weir and monitoring.

They asked the judge to maintain jurisdiction over the case until NMFS has either fully complied with the order or until the parties have reached a negotiated settlement.

Judge Haggerty's January decision had focused on the uncertainty regarding the use of a weir to reduce hatchery straying on wild spring chinook spawning grounds. A few years ago, stray rates exceeded 70 percent. The feds said a weir would cut that to 10 percent, but the judge didn't buy it. Both sides met after Haggerty's ruling, but could not agree on how many hatchery smolts should be released this year.

The Sandy River Basin once contained up to 15,000 coho, 20,000 winter steelhead, 10,000 fall Chinook and 10,000 spring Chinook. In 2010, an estimated 1,330 spring Chinook, 901 coho and 969 winter steelhead spawners returned. -B. R.

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