Even as Washington steelhead managers have been making plans to move away from hatchery Skamania summer-run releases in Puget Sound, an environmental group is threatening to sue the state agency over the program.
The Wild Fish Conservancy announced this afternoon it was filing a 60-day intent to sue WDFW, saying the stock violates the Endangered Species Act.
The highly litigious organization based in Duvall says that programs operated primarily on the Skykomish but also the North Fork Stillaguamish and Green-Duwamish Rivers threaten five wild populations of Puget Sound summer-run steelhead and are driving them “closer to extinction” by spawning in the wild, reducing fitness.
WFC cites concerns that the National Marine Fisheries Service had in mid-2017 over Skamanias — a 1950s mix of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from a state hatchery on the Washougal — but in response to that WDFW in coordination with its ad hoc Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group and the Tulalip Tribes last year came up with a plan.
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It would eventually replace the strain in the Skykomish with Tolt River summers instead, but would also take multiple years.
“There’s no expectation to eliminate the existing program until we build up the Tolt,” WDFW’s Jim Scott, a special assistant to the director, told Northwest Sportsman for a story detailing the plan, “and there will be a period of overlap of the programs” before Skamania releases ends.
At last check late last year that plan was still moving forward, so it’s unclear whether it has gathered enough momentum to now be a threat to WFC and thus is forcing it into yet another lawsuit against fishery overseers.
But what is clear is that the 60-day intent to sue appears to purposefully bump up against the timeframe this year’s smolts would be released from Reiter Ponds into the Skykomish, perhaps in an effort to get WDFW to come to a settlement like what happened with Chambers Creek hatchery early winter-run steelhead in 2014.
While it also wasn’t clear from WFC’s intent-to-sue letter what they considered the five populations of wild summers threatened by Skamania summers to be, earlier this year, researchers studying hatchery summer and wild winter steelhead in Oregon’s Clackamas River found the former didn’t affect the latter.