State: No Chambers Creek steelhead in Dungeness River until lawsuit resolved

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is not releasing Chambers Creek steelhead in the Dungeness and other rivers that drain into Puget Sound until a lawsuit brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy to stop the practice is resolved.

Fish and Wildlife planned to release some 900,000 juvenile steelhead into the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Duwamish, Snohomish and Dungeness rivers this spring.

The plan called for 10,000 Chambers Creeks steelhead to be planted in the Dungeness River.

Attorneys for the Wild Fish Conservancy, a conservation group based in Duvall, filed a request for an injunction in U.S. District Court on Monday claiming the practice violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

The conservancy’s suit said that planting Chambers Creek steelhead harms wild Puget Sound steelhead, wild Puget Sound chinook and bull trout. All three are listed as threatened species.

Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said the agency’s steelhead hatchery operations were not approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service after Puget Sound steelhead were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2007.

The fisheries service, Anderson said, never finished its review of the steelhead plan submitted by Fish and Wildlife in 2005.

“We believe strongly that we are operating safe and responsible hatchery programs that meet exacting, science-based standards,” he said.

“But without NMFS certification that our hatchery programs comply with the Endangered Species Act, we remain at risk of litigation. We are working hard to complete that process.”

Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the conservancy, said the department’s decision was a good sign that fishery managers are taking the issue seriously.

Jim Scott, who heads the Fish and Wildlife fish program, said scientific findings indicate that certain hatchery practices may pose an impediment to wild-fish productivity and recovery.

He noted, though, that state hatchery managers have reduced the amount of Chambers Creek steelhead planted in the Puget Sound watershed by more than 50 percent.

They also have cut the number of locations the fish are released from from 27 to nine and have instituted measures to prevent planted Chambers Creek steelhead from mating with wild fish.

Chambers Creek steelhead were developed in hatcheries near Lakewood in Pierce County.

Steelhead are ocean-going rainbow trout.

In 2012, the Wild Fish Conservancy filed a similar suit to stop the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe from planting Chambers Creek steelhead in its efforts to restore fish runs following the removal of Elwha Dam.

That suit was dismissed from court after the tribe agreed to stop.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 03. 2014 7:03PM
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