One reason these figures are so important is that they could affect the listing of the fall run under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The question of whether hatcheries can help restore threatened and endangered salmon populations or if they actually harm wild populations has long been a controversial issue. It became a legal issue in 2001, when a federal judge revoked the ESA listing of Oregon coast coho salmon, ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) should have included hatchery fish in the population counts.
A more recent federal court ruling, however, concluded that the health and viability of natural populations should be used as the benchmark for ESA status determinations. That ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
"The agency's policy on counting hatchery fish has flip-flopped as a result of these different legal decisions," Grimes said. "Now the focus is again on wild fish, and it doesn't appear there are many of them. That could be bad news for fishing because, if the fall run is listed under the Endangered Species Act, there would be no legal harvest."
Fisheries experts blame unfavorable ocean conditions for the dismally low returns of chinook and coho salmon to rivers and streams all along the West Coast this year. In 2005, when this year's returning salmon were juveniles just entering the ocean, food production in the California Current was much lower than usual due to a delay in the wind-driven upwelling of nutrient-rich water that sustains the food web along the coast. A similar di
|Contact: Tim Stephens|
University of California - Santa Cruz