Conservation Organization Asks Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to Protect State Fish

Wild Fish Conservancy filed a complaint on Wednesday in the Western District of Washington alleging that the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and its director, chair, vice, chair, and commission members violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it is “causing ‘take’” of threatened fish including Puget Sound steelhead, Washington’s state fish, Puget Sound Chinook salmon, and bull trout through its steelhead hatchery program. 

The program, known as the South Fork Skykomish River summer steelhead hatchery program, releases Skamania summer steelhead into the waters, which the plaintiff claimed is not authorized through the ESA. The plaintiff said this program is designed to support recreational fishing. 

According to the Wild Fish Conservancy, the hatchery fish are “genetically diverged” from the native fish which “increases the potential for passing on maladaptive traits to ESA-listed Puget Sound steelhead, thereby undermining recovery efforts.” However, the plaintiff said WDFW continued the program despite these findings in violation of the ESA and decrees in previous lawsuits. The WDFW reportedly submitted a new hatchery management plan in April 2019 which would cause take of the salmonids which are currently endangered. 

“WDFW’s implementation of this program in the absence of ESA-review or approval follows a long and disconcerting pattern of the agency’s willingness to violate the ESA’s prohibition on unauthorized ‘take’ of protected species when it comes to artificial fish propagation,” the complaint said. 

The filing explained that Puget Sound steelhead populations have “declined precipitously” since the fish was named Washington’s state fish in 1969 and has been listed as an endangered species since 2007. The plaintiff claimed that it has been determined through studies that hatchery production has not bolstered the fish populations but rather contributed to the decline of wild fish populations. Because of this, the hatchery program is reportedly harmful and the plaintiffs are seeking for it to be discontinued. 

Wild Fish Conservancy asked the court to issue an injunction that would require WDFW to follow the ESA and stop the department from continuing to fund the program until it complies with the ESA. 

The plaintiff is represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC