NMFS Asks For Comments On Draft EIS For 5 Puget Sound Steelhead Programs

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that evaluates five management plans for Puget Sound fish hatcheries that produce early-returning winter steelhead to support recreational and tribal fisheries. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal managers developed the plans and submitted them to NOAA Fisheries for evaluation.

The DEIS examines the effects of operating the five hatchery programs that produce early winter steelhead in the Dungeness, Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Skykomish, and Snoqualmie river basins. Early winter steelhead are highly domesticated and return to rivers and streams earlier than most other Puget Sound Steelhead.

SKYKOMISH EARLY-TIMED WINTER STEELHEAD, WHICH THESE ANGLERS ARE FISHING FOR JUST BELOW THE REITER PONDS REARING FACILITY, IS AMONG THE FIVE PROGRAMS FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS ARE ASKING FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)
SKYKOMISH RIVER EARLY-TIMED WINTER STEELHEAD, WHICH THESE ANGLERS ARE FISHING FOR JUST BELOW THE REITER PONDS REARING FACILITY, IS AMONG THE FIVE HATCHERY PROGRAMS FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS ARE ASKING FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The DEIS and related information are now available on NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region website at http://go.usa.gov/cCYjW. Comments will be accepted through Monday, Dec. 28, by email, fax or mail.

“This is an opportunity for the public to comment on our evaluation of these programs,” said Rob Jones, hatchery branch manager for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “We invite people look at this draft and give feedback on the technical merit of the document and tell us if there are other issues or points we should be considering.”

Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries published a draft environmental assessment evaluating three of these five early winter steelhead programs, but based on comments received during the public review of that draft, the agency determined that a more comprehensive environmental impact statement was required.

Management plans developed by state and tribal managers provide frameworks for operating the hatcheries, including hatchery practices and research to minimize the effects hatcheries and hatchery fish have on Puget Sound salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The DEIS analyzes the impacts of a proposal by NOAA Fisheries to determine whether management plans for these five Puget Sound hatchery programs meet the requirements of the ESA. The ESA determinations themselves will be completed separately from this DEIS process.

Alternatives evaluated in the DEIS include no action, which would discontinue operation of the hatcheries; operation of the hatcheries as proposed; an alternative that would reduce fish production; and another that would convert the hatcheries to native broodstock from local watersheds. The DEIS examines the impact of the alternatives on threatened salmon and steelhead and endangered Southern Resident killer whales, as well as socioeconomic and environmental justice effects.

NOAA Fisheries will consider public comments in developing a final EIS, which will identify a preferred alternative. The preferred alternative may be one of the existing alternatives examined in the DEIS, or some combination of the four. A Record of Decision following the final EIS will describe NOAA Fisheries’ ultimate decision on the early winter steelhead hatchery programs in Puget Sound.

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