Representatives of the recreational fishing community expressed frustration at an agreement that ends a lawsuit over the state’s plans to release about 900,000 steelhead smolts in Puget Sound-area rivers.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife reached an agreement on April 25 with the Wild Fish Conservancy that stops litigation against the department over its Puget Sound hatchery programs for 21/2 years and permits the release of hatchery steelhead this spring into the Skykomish River.
In a March 31 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the Duvall-based nonprofit group claimed the department’s Puget Sound hatchery steelhead programs violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Those hatchery fish are impairing the recovery of wild steelhead, salmon, and bull trout, all listed as threatened, the group claimed.
Agency officials admitted the department was vulnerable to litigation because its hatchery steelhead operations had not been approved by National Marine Fisheries Service following the ESA listing of Puget Sound steelhead in 2007. The department worked with tribal co-managers to revise and update its hatchery genetic management plans for all Puget Sound steelhead hatcheries and resubmitted them to NMFS earlier this year. They are still under review.