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 Bush administration out to reduce salmon harvesting

Jeff Barnard Associated Press Jan. 25, 2006

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Bush administration wants to put salmon restoration on a new course by reducing harvests of threatened and endangered fish by U.S. and Canadian fishermen and shutting down hatcheries that are harming wild spawners.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was to announce the new policy Wednesday at a meeting of salmon scientists.

In an interview with The Associated Press prior to the speech, he said extensive work has been done on restoring freshwater habitat and making hydroelectric dams less lethal, and it is time to focus on reducing the harm caused by salmon harvests and hatcheries.

"We cannot improperly hatch and we cannot carelessly catch the wild salmon back to recovery," Connaughton said. "We have to proceed through expanded collaboration in which all the partners - federal, state, tribal and citizens - take our shared goal of salmon recovery and infuse it with an even greater portion of shared responsibility in contribution to that effort."

Connaughton, the top environmental adviser to President Bush, chose to outline the new policy at the Salmon 2100 Conference, where scientists from government agencies, universities, Indian tribes and conservation groups were gathered to consider new ways to prevent the extinction of wild salmon by the year 2100.

The Salmon 2100 report, produced by a group of 30 scientists and policy analysts, concludes that too many people using too much energy and natural resources make it inevitable that wild Pacific salmon will become extinct over the next century without a major overhaul in the way people live their lives.

Since 1991, 26 populations of salmon have been listed as threatened or endangered. None has been judged healthy enough to be delisted. Restoration efforts and technological fixes to dams have run up a bill of $6 billion over the past 10 years.

Connaughton said the Bush administration focus on harvest and hatcheries grew out of the administration's commitment to end overfishing in all oceans and pending efforts to renew the basic fisheries law of the land, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act.

The administration would work to reduce harvests of wild salmon through the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets West Coast ocean salmon fishing seasons, the 2008 negotiations for the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, which regulates fishing on U.S. fish in Canadian waters, and Oregon and Washington's joint regulation of the Columbia River.

"Our goal is to minimize, and where possible eliminate, the harvest of naturally spawning fish that provide the foundation for recovery," Connaughton said. "I need to underline a strong commitment to the defense of tribal trust and treaty rights to harvest fish in all the usual and accustomed places."

Typically, regulations allow the harvest only of fish whose adipose fins - fleshy knobs near the base of the tail - have been clipped to show they came from a hatchery. However, not all fish raised in hatcheries are clipped. And many fish that are caught do not survive after they are released.

Connaughton said he did not want to predict how far harvest limitations might go.

"Our goal is to reduce the overall level," he said. "We will work through the process to see just how much with respect to each species and in what sequence."

Scientists have long blamed hatcheries for producing salmon that dilute the gene pool, spread disease, and compete with wild fish for food and habitat, while being less able to survive in the wild. Yet to date, Connaughton said he could not get a full list of which hatcheries were harming wild salmon, and which were helping.

Connaughton said Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden and Washington Democrats Rep. Norm Dicks and Rep. Brian Baird had secured $500,000 in the Commerce appropriations bill to allow NOAA Fisheries to review the 180 federal, state, tribal and private salmon hatcheries in the Columbia Basin, shut down those harming wild fish, and help those that want to adopt better practices.

And the Bonneville Power Administration would pay for a review of hatcheries it funds, Connaughton added.

 
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