NOAA to Determine if Chinook Salmon Should Be Declared Endangered

Image: NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries has initiated a review of the status of Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon, to see if protections under the Endangered Species Act sought by a Seattle conservation group are warranted.

NOAA’s May 24 announcement in the Federal Register for a study sought by the Wild Fish Conservancy in Seattle, notes that in reviewing the conservancy’s petition it found numerous factual errors, omissions, incomplete references, and unsupported assertions and conclusions.

But the petition contained enough information for a reasonable person to conclude that the petitioned action may be warranted, NOAA said.

NOAA said the agency would accept public comment on the petition through July 23.

The conservancy, which advocates for more Chinook salmon to feed southern resident orca whales in Puget Sound, requested the study, contending that protection of Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon is warranted.

To ensure the long-term survival and recovery of Alaska’s Chinook salmon conservation efforts are needed to address threats including overfishing, bycatch in trawl fisheries, hatchery impacts, habitat degradation and climate change, the conservancy contends.

NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Administrator Jon Kurland said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has tremendous expertise in salmon biology and management in Alaska and that NOAA plans to seek technical assistance from its state partners on Chinook biology, genetics and NOAA Fisheries has initiated a review of the status of Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon, to see if relevant risk factors.

The announcement of NOAA’s study, meanwhile, prompted criticism from ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang and the Alaska congressional delegation.

“The petition was clearly drafted by people with little knowledge of Alaska and Alaska salmon stocks,” Vincent-Lang said. “It was rife with significant factual errors, omits important data that are widely available, and does not accurately describe the status of Chinook salmon in Alaska.”

The commissioner said he found it “mind boggling that (NOAA Fisheries) could make a positive finding based on cherry-picked data to support a pre-determined viewpoint.”

Vincent-Lang also said the Endangered Species Act is the wrong tool to address a downturn in Chinook salmon productivity and that Wild Fish Conservancy is using it as a weapon to further their own interests.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said that while Alaska’s king salmon need help, that an ESA listing based on a flawed petition from a Seattle-based environmental activist group is the wrong way to go.

Tim Bristol, director of SalmonState, said he doesn’t think this study will lead to any kind of positive outcome.

“I believe in the ESA, but I think you have to be careful how you use it,” he said. “It is a very powerful tool and also a blunt tool, and I think it is being misapplied by the Wild Fish Conservancy in this case. We don’t even know what is leading to this decline in Chinook salmon. There are so many unknowns out there.”