Elwha tribe vows not to unleash nonnative hatchery fish
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Peninsula Daily News
Robert Elofson, river restoration director for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, looks over a rearing pond at the tribe’s fish hatchery in June 2011.

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PORT ANGELES — A lawsuit against the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe's hatchery plan has been dismissed by a federal judge as moot.

That's in part because the tribe promised not to release nonnative fish in the newly undammed Elwha River.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma last week tossed out the suit filed by wild fish advocates who opposed nonnative species being stocked in the Elwha River.

Settle, a judge for the Western District of Washington, dismissed the suit because the tribe has obtained federal permits it needs for hatchery programs.

“We're pleased right now, but we're still waiting to see some more of the language that comes back out on it,” Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said Monday. “We haven't got all of the language verified through our attorneys.”

Charles declined further comment on the lawsuit or on the tribe's December announcement that it plans to back away from stocking its hatchery with nonnative Chambers Creek steelhead.

The $16 million fish hatchery was built north of the site of the former Elwha Dam as part of the National Park Service's
$325 million river restoration project, highlighted by the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

Hatchery fish are used to supplement wild species that eventually will recolonize 70 miles of habitat upstream.

The hatchery also guards returning species, including four listed for protection, from heavy loads of sediment being flushed down the river.

Four fish conservation groups filed the lawsuit challenging the use of hatchery fish, which they said undermines ecosystem recovery and violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

Demolition of the two dams began in September 2011.

The Elwha Dam was removed by last March, and the taller Glines Canyon Dam, 9 miles upstream, is about 75 percent gone.

The National Park Service halted dam removal last month to give contractors time to repair an industrial treatment plant that provides water for the hatchery, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife fish-rearing channel and the Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. mill in Port Angeles.

The intake system was clogged with organic material and sediment after heavy rains inundated the river last fall.

Port Angeles' general water supply, which also is drawn from the river, is unaffected.

Removal of what's left of Glines Canyon Dam is set to restart March 31, with full removal expected by summer.

The project will wrap up a year ahead of schedule.

Steelhead from Chambers Creek, which is in the Pierce County community of Lakewood, were used to ensure a harvestable steelhead run during dam removal. The tribe for years has stocked the river with nonnative steelhead to provide fishing for tribal members.

Wild fish advocates criticized the use of nonnative species because of their effects on native Elwha stocks.

The September 2011 notice of intent to sue claimed that the agencies involved in river restoration did not seek adequate consultation before deciding in a 2008 recovery plan to use a new $16 million hatchery to “jump-start” recovery of wild fish in the Elwha River.

The groups said hatchery fish reduce the vigor and survival of fragile runs of native fish, and the decision to plant Chambers Creek winter steelhead in the river posed a particular risk.

The Associated Press and McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.

Last modified: February 18. 2013 5:49PM
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