On Tuesday, July 29, the Washington Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources held a hearing on the recent settlement reached between the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) and the Wild Fish Conservancy over Puget Sound hatchery steelhead.
The hearing featured a strong turnout from Washington’s recreational angling community, with representatives from recreational angling groups and manufacturers, including the Washington chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Puget Sound Angler’s Association, and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA), along with the Tulalip and Lummi Tribes, testifying on the critical role that well-managed fish hatchery programs play in the state. Recreational angling advocates noted the losses in angling opportunities, jobs, and tribal way of life that would occur if severe restrictions on Washington’s hatchery programs continue.
The Wild Fish Conservancy spoke to the rationale for their threat of a lawsuit and eventual settlement with WDFW, indicating that their organization would continue to pursue avenues to limit hatchery production.
The hearing also provided WDFW Director Phil Anderson with an opportunity to explain the agency’s rationale for agreeing to the settlement. In his testimony, Anderson noted that WDFW agreed to settle based on speculation that they were likely to lose the lawsuit because NOAA Fisheries has yet to approve Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMPs) necessary to release hatchery-raised steelhead as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Witnesses testifying on behalf of the angling community acknowledged the challenges of proceeding with WDFW’s hatchery programs without approved HGMPs, but also suggested that fighting the lawsuit may have led to a more favorable outcome than the agreed-to settlement.
NOAA Fisheries defended its delayed review of Washington’s HGMPs, noting that before proceeding with reviewing many of the HGMPs, they first need to complete respective Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and hatchery reviews under the ESA for hatchery programs in the Columbia River and Puget Sound. NOAA noted that they are sending additional resources to their Lacey, WA and Portland, OR offices to help speed up the HGMP review process on the Puget Sound and Columbia River Basin, which is the agency’s number one priority in the Pacific Coast region. Click here to read the presentation given by NOAA’s Rob Jones.
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