Orgs File Lawsuit Over Columbia’s Mitchell Act, SAFE Hatchery Operations

A pair of environmental organizations have filed a lawsuit against federal, state and county officials over alleged Endangered Species Act violations related to salmon hatchery programs on the Lower Columbia.


Wild Fish Conservancy and The Conservation Angler claim that Mitchell Act and Select Area Fisheries Enhancement hatcheries funded or run by NMFS, WDFW, ODFW and Clatsop County Fisheries cause a variety of takes of listed Chinook, coho and other species, and that the federal biological opinions authorizing the programs aren’t being fully complied with.

The lawsuit was filed by the Duvall- and Portland-based orgs in US District Court for Western Washington in Tacoma on Wednesday and was presaged in January by a 60-day notice threatening legal action.

It’s directed at US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and former ODFW Director Curt Melcher, all members of Washington’s and Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions, and two Clatsop County officials.

Mitchell Act and SAFE hatcheries release tens of millions of spring and fall Chinook, coho, chum and winter and summer steelhead annually as mitigation for dams, fisheries, to provide southern resident killer whale forage and more.

In a press release, WFC and TCA said “most concerning” to them was the programs allegedly “seriously exceeding” the biops’ limits on how many hatchery fish end up on the gravel and spawning with wild salmon, what’s known as pHOS, or proportion of hatchery-origin spawners, and claimed weirs meant to reduce that aren’t effective and are also obstructing wild fish.

Their lawsuit asks the court to declare the defendants in violation of sections 7 and 9 of ESA, issue a mandantory injunction requiring them to comply with the act and award them legal fees.

“WDFW is not able to comment on active litigation at this time,” said agency spokeswoman Samantha Montgomery.

“We are reviewing the filings but do not have any comment at this point,” added NMFS’s Michael Milstein.

“ODFW does not comment on pending litigation,” stated Michelle Dennehy.