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WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE     Print Version
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091


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November 05, 1996
Contact: Sandi Snell, 360-902-2229 or Jeff Weathersby, 360-902-2256

Agreement permits fin clipping on Columbia River

OLYMPIA -- The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Puget Sound treaty tribes and the National Marine Fisheries Service have reached an agreement that allows the resumption of fin clipping of hatchery coho salmon in Columbia River hatcheries.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife resumed clipping at those hatcheries yesterday. Some Puget Sound tribes on Oct. 16 obtained a federal court order to stop the marking.

"I'm pleased we have reached agreement that allows resumption of the marking on the Columbia," said Bern Shanks, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "I'm hopeful we and the tribes, which cooperatively co-manage the state's fisheries, will develop a court-approved plan in the next several days to resolve outstanding disagreements on marking Puget Sound coho."

To date 5.5 million coho have been marked for the Columbia River. Shanks said the agreement means another 6.6 million coho raised in Columbia River hatcheries can be clipped and then released this spring. The department already has completed marking almost 6 million coho on the coast south of Grays Harbor.

"We estimate about 4 to 8 percent of these 18 million coho will return as adults in 1998. We will be developing harvesting plans for them in conjunction with the tribes and federal government," Shanks said. The adult fish are expected to concentrate on the coast off Ilwaco and Westport and at the mouth of the Columbia River.

"More importantly, fishers will be able to identify and keep hatchery fish so wild coho can be released and return to their native rivers to spawn," he added.

Shanks said the joint agreement will assist the department in meeting the Legislature's mandate to mark hatchery coho raised in state hatcheries. The marking program is a cornerstone in the department's effort to avoid federalization of salmon management in Washington through the Endangered Species Act.

Shanks said he was hopeful continuing negotiations with the tribes will resolve other fin-clipping issues that remain before U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein. The stipulation, filed Friday, advised Judge Rothstein the state, tribes and National Marine Fisheries Service would submit a status report on efforts to resolve the other issues by Nov. 15. Those issues are:

  • The continuation of mass marking of coho in state hatcheries on the coast north of Grays Harbor and in Puget Sound. Some 12 million coho remain unmarked in these hatcheries.
  • The possibility of marking north coastal and Puget Sound hatchery coho by cutting a ventral fin rather than the adipose fin (the adipose fin is on the back near the tail; the ventral fin is on the belly).
  • The release of approximately three million Puget Sound coho whose adipose fins were clipped before Rothstein's Oct. 16 temporary restraining order halting all marking.
Shanks said no additional marking of north coastal and Puget Sound hatchery coho would occur until the tribes, state and federal government reach an agreement endorsed by the court.

The tribes and Canada have opposed the department's marking program on grounds that it would interfere with an existing data collection system that relies on implanting coded wire tags in the heads of some hatchery salmon. Adipose fins on fish carrying coded wire tags are clipped so fishers can identify them and return their heads to the department to record data.

The department believes metal detection systems can be used to identify fish whose heads contain coded wire tags when all hatchery coho are marked by adipose fine clip.