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Judge: Elwha hatchery fish plan illegal

March 31st, 2014 - 5:33am

(Tacoma) A federal court says the government violated law in approving plans to release hatchery fish into the Elwha River.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle, last week, found the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act statute by failing to adequately consider alternatives to the proposed large-scale releases of hatchery salmon and steelhead.

The court was concerned that there was no consideration of smaller releases of hatchery fish.

A number of conservation groups filed the suit earlier this year to stop release of hatchery fish into the Elwha River.

The conservation groups argue releasing coho and steelhead from hatcheries will weaken the genetic stocks of the wild fish runs in the river.

Releasing the fish to bolster runs in the river is part of the plan outlined in the Elwha River Restoration project.

The National Marine Fisheries Service authorized the release of over 7.5 million hatchery fish each year into the Elwha River. NMFS evaluated two different sized programs -- one that would release the entire 7.5 million and one that would release zero hatchery fish.

Judge Settle held that this violated NEPA.

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