By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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Four fish conservation groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday challenging the use of hatchery fish, which they said undermines ecosystem recovery during and after removal of the river's two dams and violates the federal Endangered Species Act.
Demolition of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, the focus of a $325 million federal river restoration effort, started last September and is expected to be complete in 2014.
The lawsuit, which also names the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, comes on the heels of a report from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group that is critical of the dam removal project's fish restoration plan.
The federally funded group concluded in its report released Jan. 31 that the fish restoration plan made by federal and tribal agencies will not adequately monitor the impacts of hatchery fish on restoration of the wild salmon runs.
Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, cited the report in an interview and called the fish restoration plan “half baked.”
“You just can't say when something bad happens you will do something good,” he said.
Conservation Angler, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Steelhead Coalition also signed onto the lawsuit.
Officials with the park, tribe and Fish and Wildlife declined to comment.
A spokesperson for NOAA fisheries' northwest region couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
Needed for restoration
In September, Robert Elofson, Lower Elwha Klallam river restoration director, said hatchery fish are needed for restoration because of the risk that returning wild salmon could be killed by sediment released by the teardown of the dams.
The tribe has said as many as 3 million juvenile fish will be released a year from its new $16.4 million hatchery, built with federal funds for salmon restoration.
More than 600 fish were released last year between the dams.
In its report, the hatchery review group doesn't object to the use of hatchery fish but does raise concerns over the long-term impact.
It notes a “lack of a structured adaptive management process” and recommends that more be done to watch the impact of hatchery fish on the return of wild runs to the upper reaches of the river.
Beardslee also criticized the ongoing use of Chambers Creek steelhead, the one strain not native to the river.
“They need to consult over what the effects of that will be on listed stocks,” he said.
Elofson also said in September that the Chambers Creek steelhead is used to provide a harvestable steelhead run.
He said then that the native and Chambers Creek runs happen at different times of the year and that studies have not shown a genetic impact on the native run.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.