After a decade of litigation, NOAA Fisheries and EPA will prepare a biological opinion on harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens

From the Wild Fish Conservancy Press Release this morning. It’s unfortunate that those of us concerned about this issue needed to spend 10 years trying to force them to get to this simple issue. NOAA Fisheries have been one of the biggest boosters of net pen Atlantic salmon, never studying the wider effects of pens beyond a few hundred yards away from them. There has never been a wholistic approach to studying the effects of fish waste, food waste, chemicals added to the water, fish escapement, nor the issue that wild fish are attracted to the pens by food. What we learned from the net pen collapse last fall, was that the claims of the industry, repeated by spokesmen for Taylor Shellfish (who support net pens), that there was no way that Atlantic salmon would survive after escapement, were nothing but wishful thinking. Atlantic salmon from the pens were found far up the Skagit River basin and along the north outer shore of Vancouver Island. The misinformation campaigns of these industries that put profit ahead of environment are stunning in their audacity.


After a decade of litigation, NOAA Fisheries and EPA make the 11th hour decision to prepare a biological opinion on harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens to ESA- listed salmon and steelhead.

The agencies have finally begun formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to evaluate the potential harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound October 11th, 2018

Duvall, WA – On the eve of court proceedings over a legal battle Wild Fish Conservancy initiated in 2015, NOAA Fisheries and EPA have entered into formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act, consultation that will lead to the issuance of a biological opinion.

Under the Endangered Species Act, a biological opinion evaluates the extent of harm a proposed action will have on threatened or endangered species and whether such harm could jeopardize the continued existence of the species. Biological opinions also include conditions for monitoring and reducing harmful impacts to protected species.

Considering the abundant scientific evidence that open-water Atlantic salmon aquaculture may harm threatened and endangered salmonid species, Wild Fish Conservancy first argued that formal consultation and a biological opinion was necessary back in 2008, when we argued against the agencies’ decision that Atlantic salmon net pens were ‘not likely to adversely affect’ threatened and endangered species. We won that case in 2010, with the court ruling that NOAA and EPA had failed to use the best available science when making their decision and must reconsider whether a biological opinion is necessary.

Less than one year later, after a brief consultation, NOAA and EPA again decided that a biological opinion was unnecessary. This decision was shortly followed by a large-scale disease outbreak in Atlantic salmon net pens off the coast in Bainbridge Island in 2012, which killed over 1 million pounds of farmed Atlantic salmon during a time when juvenile wild salmon were out-migrating through Puget Sound.

Wild Fish Conservancy again challenged the agencies’ decision to avoid a biological opinion in 2015, a case that prompted NOAA and EPA last week to announce their intention to re-initiate consultation and finally prepare a biological opinion. That decision came only after the Court soundly rejected the agencies’ efforts to dismiss the case and ruled that the duty under the Endangered Species Act to re-initiate consultation does apply to EPA’s underlying action.

Since the case was filed in 2015, we have learned far more about the potential for harm the Atlantic salmon net pen industry presents to wild salmon and steelhead. In 2017, a collapsed net pen off the coast of Cypress Island released over 260,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, nearly all of which are estimated to have been infected with Piscine Reovorius, a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus that may infect wild salmon. A study in 2018

demonstrated that PRV leads to debilitating disease in Chinook salmon, the primary food source of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

This case comes at a time when key provisions of the Endangered Species Act are under threat in the United States Congress and underscores the monumental importance of the ESA, an act that has been critical in providing key protections to over one thousand threatened and endangered species across the country.

“While it shouldn’t have taken ten years of litigation for our agencies to realize the necessity of a biological opinion,” said Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy’s Executive Director, “I am glad to hear they have decided to change course, and I am hopeful that a biological opinion will lead to conditions and terms that will limit and monitor the harm caused by net pens to ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

“Taking the utmost precaution is necessary to avoid the extinction of imperiled Pacific salmon and steelhead species, especially when considering the dire plight of Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident killer whales that are starving due to their struggling population.”

Contact

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director, 425.788.1167/kurt@wildfishconservancy.org

About

Wild Fish Conservancy is a science & research conservation non-profit dedicated to the preservation, protection & restoration of wild fish ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. We are headquartered in Duvall, WA. Learn more at wildfishconservancy.org

Wild Fish Conservancy is represented in this matter by the law firm of Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, with offices in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.

ZINKE ORDERS BROAD ROLLBACK OF WILDLIFE PROTECTIONS

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced a “commitment to defer” to state hunting and fishing practices on all lands within agency purview. His order is a stunning abdication of a more than century-old legal foundation of federal primacy for wildlife management on federal lands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a September 10, 2018 Memorandum to Heads of Bureaus and Offices, Zinke declared that henceforth states will be the “first-line authorities for fish and wildlife management” on all Interior lands and that Interior “hereby expresses its commitment to defer to the States in this regard.” To implement this reversal, Zinke directs Interior agencies compile any “regulations, policies, guidance that pertain to public recreational use and enjoyment of fish and wildlife…that are more restrictive than otherwise applicable State provisions” within 45 days. Within 90 days after that, each agency is supposed to recommend steps “to better align its regulations, policies, and guidance with State provisions.”

“This across-the-board abandonment of federal fish and wildlife safeguards is rooted in an ideological stance unsupported by any factual analysis,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that Zinke ignores the fact that many state game agencies are funded by hunting and fishing license fees and pursue practices, such as predator control, to maximize that revenue. “Federal parks, preserves, and refuges have a mission to protect biodiversity and should not be reduced to game farms.”

A sample of what Zinke’s memo could usher in is reflected by his controversial order that the National Park Service open its Alaska preserves to questionable hunting and trapping techniques, such as killing bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens, luring bears with bait, and shooting swimming caribou from a motorboat. Zinke’s order would put any federal wildlife protection not required by law on a path to repeal. This could mean federal parklands, refuges, and rangelands may have to accommodate states:

• Introducing non-native fish to natural lakes in a park or exotic pheasants for upland game bird hunting;

• Eliminating all wolves or other natural predator populations in a game management area; or

• Approving destructive or dangerous hunting techniques, such as trapping in hiking venues, hunting with dogs even on island refuges, hunting contests, and absence of bag limits.

Zinke’s memo posits the premise that “State governments have consistently demonstrated their commitment to sustaining fish and wildlife resources in perpetuity for the benefit of both current and future citizens.” This statement not only is demonstrably untrue but ignores the conditions leading to enactment of the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Mr. Zinke says that he does not want to give away ownership of federal lands but happily cedes their management,” added Ruch. “With his penchant for sweeping yet ill-considered actions, Ryan Zinke is on a trajectory to become the worst Secretary of the Interior since Teapot Dome.”

While I was out rafting….

While I was off the grid on the Grande Ronde river with friends, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that sets the stage to roll back NEPA and the environmental review process across the entire federal government. CEQ is currently only offering the public a 30-day comment period.

So we will need to refashion virtually all environmental laws by the time the Trump administration is done. Lots of work ahead. Maybe a lawsuit will be filed to stop this, as it may be illegal to undermine environmental review.

Lawsuit seeks more review of projects that ‘armor’ Puget Sound shoreline – Seattle Times

Good independent overview of the lawsuit filed yesterday  by Sound Action, Friends of the San Juans and Washington Environmental Council (WEC).

Restoring the natural shoreline at the Elwha River where it meets the sea is part of an ongoing battle to heal Puget Sound — along with a lawsuit to achieve better environmental review of new shoreline projects.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/lawsuit-seeks-more-review-of-projects-that-armor-puget-sound-shoreline/?utm_source=marketingcloud&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Morning+Brief+5-22-18_5_22_2018

Groups Challenge Army Corps of Engineers’ Refusal to Protect Puget Sound Shorelines

Corps’ Seattle District violates Clean Water Act, endangers Sound recovery
May 21, 2018

Seattle, WA —A lawsuit filed today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) charges that the agency has refused to assert its Clean Water Act jurisdiction over most shoreline armoring in Puget Sound, and that endangered species and Sound shorelines are suffering the negative impacts of the Corps’ continued inaction.

Washington Environmental Council, Sound Action and Friends of the San Juans filed the suit after the Corps rejected a science-based government recommendation to correct its unlawful definition of the Seattle District Corps’ jurisdiction over shoreline armoring projects.

The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, is calling for federal oversight of shoreline armoring by raising what the Corps’ Seattle District considers the “high tide line” in order to better protect at-risk species and the shorelines themselves. The lawsuit also calls for a response to the groups’ 2015 petition asking for jurisdictional decisions on four shoreline armoring projects. The groups contend a strong federal policy to protect shorelines is critical to Puget Sound recovery.

“Shoreline armoring impairs the health of Puget Sound by damaging nearshore habitat important for forage fish that feed salmon,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound director for Washington Environmental Council. “Currently, federal agencies don’t consider impacts from these structures, because their definition of what constitutes ‘the shoreline’ is too lax.”

Background

Armoring is the placement of hard structures — boulders, jetties, seawalls — on shorelines to help prevent erosion. The Corps is required by law to review proposed armoring projects up to the “high tide line,” which is generally the line at which land meets the water. But the Corps’ Seattle District uses a much lower tidal marker (known as the “mean higher high water” mark). As a result, the Seattle District does not review the majority of armoring projects in Puget Sound.

The Corps’ failure to assert jurisdiction means there has been no federal oversight of whether most armoring projects in the Sound meet the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act or any other federal requirement.

Further, the Corps recently rejected an interagency recommendation to use a higher tidal marker, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits arbitrary and capricious agency actions. In rejecting the recommendation, the Corps ignored sound science and the law.

“The Corps has known for years that its high tide line marker in Puget Sound is unlawfully low,” said Anna Sewell, Earthjustice attorney for the plaintiffs. “But the Corps put its head in the sand and rejected a science-based recommendation from three regional federal agencies — including the Seattle District Corps itself — to protect 8,600 acres of shoreline area by raising that marker.”

This troubling lack of federal support puts Puget Sound shorelines at risk of further deterioration, particularly when shoreline armoring is well documented to be one of the most significant risks to the Sound.

“Puget Sound is already on the brink of collapse due to continued habitat loss, and it’s critical that the laws put in place to protect nearshore ecosystems are both followed and enforced,” said Sound Action Executive Director Amy Carey. “Unless we act now, the forage fish, the salmon and the orcas that are so desperately struggling to survive will be lost forever. It’s up to all of us to ensure this doesn’t happen — and it starts by holding the permitting agencies accountable for doing their jobs.”

“By disavowing its statutory authority, the Corps has shielded harmful projects from a review of their impacts on critically endangered and culturally vital Northwest species,” added Kyle Loring, staff attorney, Friends of the San Juans. “Its high-tide interpretation also leaves state and local governments on their own, at a time when our publicly-funded agencies should be working together to do everything in their power to protect what remains of our region’s rich heritage.”

The Corps must respond to the lawsuit within 60 days.

Reporter Resource

Read the brief.

Governor slated to sign oil spill prevention act.

Some positive news on the oil spill protection front.
SB 6269-S2.E – DIGEST
Addresses oil transportation safety. Finds that the department of ecology’s oil spill program faces a critical funding gap due to the lack of adequate revenue to fully fund the prevention and preparedness services required by state law, including the 2015 oil transportation safety act.
Declares an intent to: (1) Provide adequate revenue to fully fund prevention and preparedness services required by state law;
(2) Direct the department of ecology to specifically address the risks of oils submerging and sinking; and (3) More extensively coordinate with our Canadian
partners in order to protect the state’s economy and its shared resources.
Requires the department of ecology to: (1) Establish the Salish Sea shared waters forum to address common issues in the cross-boundary waterways between Washington state and British Columbia such as: Enhancing efforts to reduce oil spill risk, addressing navigational safety, and promoting data sharing; and (2) In consultation with the Puget Sound partnership and the pilotage commission, complete a report of vessel traffic
and vessel traffic safety within the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound area that includes the San Juan archipelago, its connected waterways, Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, Rosario
Strait, and the waters south of Admiralty Inlet.
Provides a July 1, 2021, expiration date for the Salish Sea shared waters forum.

Governor to sign bill improving halibut monitoring.

More money for halibut monitoring and management.
States that a catch record card for halibut is five dollars. Requires the funds that are received from the sale of halibut catch record cards to be used for monitoring and
management of recreational halibut fisheries including expanding opportunities for recreational anglers

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill No. 6127
Relating to improving the management of the state’s halibut fishery.
Primary Sponsor: Kevin Van De Wege

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