By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson and Wild Fish Conservancy Executive Director Kurt Beardslee signed a decree in U.S. District Court on Thursday to end a suit filed by the conservancy in March.
The agreement also affects plans for other rivers.
“This agreement is a giant win for Puget Sound’s wild steelhead and their recovery,” Beardslee said.
The agreement allows the state agency to release the early winter steelhead variety into only the Skykomish River hatchery near Monroe this spring while stopping the conservancy from filing similar suits for the next 2½ years.
“While I am disappointed the agreement does not allow for the release of more of the early winter hatchery steelhead we have on hand into Puget Sound rivers, I am gratified that we were able to reach agreement to release fish from our Skykomish hatchery in 2014 and support a popular recreational fishery,” Anderson said in a news release Friday.
Jim Scott, who heads the state’s fish program, said that until the conservancy filed the lawsuit, the department had planned to release about 900,000 juvenile steelhead this spring, including 10,000 in the Dungeness River.
Those fish will be released into inland waters that have no connection to Puget Sound.
Chambers Creek fish
Chambers Creek steelhead were developed in hatcheries near Lakewood in Pierce County.
The Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy filed suit March 31, alleging the use of Chambers Creek steelhead harms wild Puget Sound steelhead, wild Puget Sound chinook and bull trout. All three are listed as threatened species.
The state had planned to release the steelhead from hatcheries on the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Duwamish, Snohomish and Dungeness rivers this spring.
Steelhead are ocean-going rainbow trout.
In addition to this year’s release, the settlement allows Fish and Wildlife to plant Chambers Creek steelhead in the Skykomish River in 2015 as well.
The settlement also establishes a 12-year research program on the Skagit River that will use only native steelhead in the watershed.
The state will pay the conservancy $45,000 for legal expenses.
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.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.