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NOAA, state seek to maintain funding for coastal coho despite non-re-listing
By Joel Gallob Of the News-Times, 2/10/06

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with the State of Oregon to amend the agreement by which the agency has authorized the use of federal endangered species restoration funds for the state's coho runs to continue in effect now that the runs are no longer deemed endangered.

"We have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the State of Oregon and we - NOAA - and the state are working together to amend that agreement so that money can be used on the coast," explained Rosemary Furfey, salmon recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service.

Louise Solliday, a natural resource adviser to Governor Ted Kulongoski, is working from the state side of that MOU "to keep restoration money used on the coast as it is currently being used," said Furfey.


The Oregon coast coho population was formally deemed no longer endangered by NOAA Fisheries last week, ending a years-long legal struggle over the Endangered Species Act status of the coastal coho.

NOAA Fisheries, based in part on its own analysis, in part on an analysis done by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, concluded the Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) formed by the Oregon coast coho is no longer endangered. The coastal coho's abundance levels are a fraction of their historic levels, but are higher than they were in the 1990s. The two agencies concluded the coastal coho have survived an extended downturn in ocean conditions and have restabilized at a new, lower-level plateau - and are likely to survive new ups and downs in ocean conditions and fresh water habitat.

NOAA and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are developing a conservation plan for the coho, Furfey said, and coastal habitat will play a key role in it. "We want to make sure they get money for it," she stated. A final draft of that conservation plan is due to be released in July or August 2006.

Furfey was interviewed by the News-Times at the Coastal Coho Stakeholders Team meeting held Friday, Jan. 20 at the Hallmark Inn in Newport.

With the ending of the endangered species listing for the coast coho ESU, Furfey noted, the protections of the Endangered Species Act no longer apply to the ESU. There is no longer an ESA requirement for consultation between other government agencies and NOAA before other agencies take actions that might affect the coastal coho. Similarly, the act's tough legal prohibition against any "take" (defined as any killing, harming, or altering of habitat) of the coastal coho no longer applies.

But, noted Furfey, the Magnuson-Stevens Act still applies, including its provisions regarding Essential Fish Habitat. "NOAA continues to possess authority under Magnuson Stevens, and Essential Fish Habitat consultations will continue. We will have a letter from NOAA going to the other stakeholders," she said, reminding them of that law's provisions.

The 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act required the designation of Essential Fish Habitat by the federal regulators of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The PFMC recently identified a number of different kinds of undersea areas off the West Coast as essential habitat for various kinds of fish, including salmon. That designation, Furfey said, "goes up the rivers and includes all the salmon species, Chinook and coho included, as well as the near shore area."

The PFMC wrote, and in October released, an Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed "preferred alternative" among several possible approaches it had looked at for designation of Essential Fish Habitat on the West Coast. In a complex document with several maps, the PFMC identified various areas of the ocean and sea floor as likely to receive various kinds of protection, through limitations on human activities, including trawling and non-trawl fishing.

But that does not provide protection against freshwater salmon fishing, or the alteration of freshwater habitat. Paul Engelmeyer, manager of the Tenmile Fish Sanctuary near Yachats and a spokesman for the Native Fish Society, was less optimistic than Furfey.

"Will the money be there in three or four years when we are still dealing with recovering these stocks? It's difficult for me to believe it will be, now, with the de-listing. It was not warranted. And the stakeholder process is still in motion, its outcome is uncertain. I'm not sure all the stakeholders agree we need to deal with habitat issues. The rough road is still ahead of us," he stated.

Still, said Furfey, NOAA will continue to be involved with the coastal coho, both under its authority through the Magnuson Stevens act and through its relationship with the State of Oregon - and with congressional funding sources.

Joel Gallob is a reporter for the News-Times. He can be reached at 265-8571 ext. 223 or joel.gallob@lee.net.




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