Non-native hatchery steelhead will not be released into the Elwha River and its tributaries this year, say four conservation groups that earlier this month filed suit against federal agencies and officials of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (in their official capacities) for releases of hatchery fish into the Elwha. The groups announced today that they have reached an agreement with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT), where the four groups agreed not to seek a preliminary injunction against the LEKT’s release of hatchery-raised “Chambers Creek” steelhead, and the LEKT agreed not to release those fish this year. Normally, the fish would have likely been released sometime in April.
On February 9, 2012, the four groups, Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition filed suit in the US District Court for Western Washington in Tacoma against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the LEKT, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement on not releasing fish in 2012 was filed with the same Court, and was approved and signed by Judge Benjamin H. Settle on Monday, February 27, 2012.
Federal and state scientists and a recent review by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) all argue that releases of non-native steelhead could slow natural recovery of the Elwha, and these same concerns were expressed by the groups in their suit. The Fish Restoration Plan for the Elwha outlines releases of hatchery-raised steelhead and Chinook salmon.
Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy stated, “We hope to expand the agreement through future discussions with the Tribe and the agencies, so the Elwha’s wild fish have a better chance to recover and recolonize this magnificent river.”
“We are glad we could come to an agreement with the Tribe on this,” said Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, “and want to discuss the HSRG’s report and science with them on all of the planned hatchery releases and together develop a way forward.”
“We appreciate the Tribe’s flexibility on this matter,” said Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “and we recognize their special relationship to the watershed. We want to work with them to both restore wild fish and meet their needs."
“This is a good first step,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “We hope to discuss all the issues and exchange ideas to make the Fish Restoration Plan a better one.”
In the agreement, neither side has admitted to any claims or assertions made by the other party. In addition, the agreement does not apply to any possible releases in future years.
The four conservation groups are represented by Brian Knutsen with the law firm of Smith and Lowney, PLLC, in Seattle.