An important settlement agreement has been reached regarding the genetic management of steelhead trout reared at the Mad River Hatchery for release into the river system. This settlement is another important step in a legal action by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) that addresses long-standing inadequacies in hatchery management, and will guarantee immediate improvements in hatchery operations that will strengthen the contribution of the hatchery to the recovery of wild fish in the Mad River basin, while still supporting a valuable and robust commercial and recreational fishery. Ongoing negotiations between EPIC and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), with important contributions by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), have successfully resulted in an agreement which will immediately improve the manner in which hatchery managers integrate wild fish into hatchery operations.
EPIC’s advocacy efforts for restoring wild fish populations in Northwest California includes many years of work defending forests and headwaters that provide clean water and valuable habitat for wild fish. Last year EPIC undertook a new initiative to reform fish hatcheries that had operated for too long without proper oversight and that were out of compliance with federal law. EPIC took action to compel state and federal agencies to incorporate the best available science into updated management plans for all fish hatcheries, and to specifically develop legally required Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMP), which had not yet occurred at North Coast California hatcheries, but had been completed at numerous other hatcheries across the Pacific Northwest. With this initiative, the hatchery operations at the Mad River Hatchery will have to ensure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. It is the steady progress towards full compliance by the agencies responsible for the Mad River Hatchery which encouraged EPIC to maintain a principled stance in the negotiation process, and in good faith show a capacity to arrive at solutions that are agreed upon by all parties.
“To be clear, EPIC is definitely not advocating that all fish hatcheries be closed immediately, nor in the near future,” said EPIC executive director Gary Graham Hughes. “Instead,” continued Hughes, “by leveraging legal action to encourage state and federal agencies to abide by the law, incorporate the best available science, and respond to public concerns, everyone will benefit in the long run.”
The eventual consultation process regarding the establishment of a proper Hatchery Genetic Management Plan under the federal Endangered Species Act at the Mad River Hatchery will result in hatchery operations that promote the restoration and genetic viability of wild fish populations. This will further advance natural recovery of native fish to their historical abundance.
Working with experts in the field, and with the invaluable assistance of the Western Environmental Law Center, EPIC has been challenging the state and federal government to better manage fish hatcheries on three North Coast river systems. EPIC filed notice letters for hatcheries on the Mad River, Trinity River and Smith River. Settlement negotiations on the Mad River are concluding, and final details on successful settlement regarding management of genetic resources at the Trinity River Hatchery will be available to the public once the confidential process comes to a close. EPIC work to protect fisheries on the Smith River has recently more closely focused on state and federal legal actions challenging the proposed Caltrans widening of Hwy 197/199 through the Smith River Canyon, and the Rowdy Creek hatchery issue still remains to be resolved. The Smith River is California’s only undammed river, and hosts the longest stretch of designated Wild and Scenic River in the lower 48-states.
Details specific to settlement negotiations regarding the Mad River Hatchery include the following:
*Due to the lack of a proper legally required Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) for the Mad River Hatchery, EPIC action in 2013 secured a stay that prohibited the capture of wild steelhead for broodstock at the hatchery pending the development of the HGMP.
*Being informed in late 2013 by NMFS that good progress was being made on the HGMP, EPIC was willing to renegotiate the terms of the settlement, and to provide for the collection by the Mad River Hatchery of natural-origin (non-hatchery) broodstock for the coming brood year.
*The terms of the modified settlement permit CDFW to collect, trap, and/or use natural-origin steelhead trout at Mad River Hatchery between Jan and March of 2014 providing that 1) for each spawning pair of broodstock the hatchery use at least one natural-origin steelhead; 2) the goal for the broodstock captured in Jan – March 2014 is to breed 150,000 steelhead for release in 2015, but only off-spring of at least one natural-origin parent will be released; and 3) if enough natural-origin broodstock are available the hatchery will try to match natural-origin steelhead with natural-origin steelhead for rearing hatchery fish.
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