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


September 01, 1998
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, (360)902-2256

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Federal stalling forces states to close Columbia Basin sport fishing

Much of the Columbia River and many of its tributaries will close to sport steelhead and salmon fishing on Sunday (Sept. 6) because the federal government refuses to issue a permit required by the Endangered Species Act, Washington and Oregon announced today.

At issue is the National Marine Fisheries Service's failure to issue a biological opinion about the effects fishing will have on steelhead runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The states cannot allow fisheries without a NMFS opinion authorizing the catching of listed species. A biological opinion is a scientific study that attempts to predict accurately how human activities in or near a river, such as fishing and dam operations, would affect species in danger of extinction. Federal permits for activities that could harm protected species are based on those opinions.

While NMFS has not issued the biological opinion describing the health of the runs, the federal agency appears to be prepared to enter into a federal court agreement with tribes that authorizes fisheries without a biological opinion, the states said.

The proposed sport closures would apply to:

  • The Columbia River from the mouth to the Highway 395 bridge in Pasco
  • Drano Lake
  • The White Salmon and lower Klickitat rivers
  • Columbia tributaries in Oregon from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Walla Walla drainage

The federal government in 1997 listed wild Snake River steelhead as threatened and wild upper Columbia steelhead as endangered. The Endangered Species Act bans actions, such as fishing, that could harm listed species.

However, Washington and Oregon fisheries managers said they have demonstrated to NMFS that sport fisheries in the Columbia Basin have little effect on the health of the listed runs. Those sport fisheries are designed to harvest from healthy stocks while protecting listed stocks.

While NMFS has issued permits for sport fishing targeted on ESA-listed chinook, the states are forced to close salmon fishing so anglers will not handle and kill steelhead incidentally.

"Endangered Species Act requirements must consider equity for all fisheries, and they must address critical habitat and hydropower issues if these fish stocks are to have a chance to recover to healthy levels," Peck said.

Without involving the states or issuing the biological opinion, NMFS is attempting to obtain federal court approval of on-going tribal gillnet fisheries in the Columbia River, Peck said.

"We are not forming any conclusions that the tribal fishery as planned will jeopardize the listed steelhead, but we are insisting that the federal government, in its capacity of administrator of the Endangered Species Act, make these decisions based on biology," he added.

Peck said Washington would reopen the fisheries under its jurisdiction if and when NMFS issues the permit to do so.