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