With West Coast Salmon Hatcheries Under Threat, Cantwell Demands Accountability From National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Agency’s bureaucratic delays leave majority of Washington salmon hatcheries vulnerable to lawsuits and closures

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today demanded accountability from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for bureaucratic delays in the agency that threaten the viability of Washington’s salmon hatcheries.

The agency has failed to approve Hatchery Genetic Management Plans—which are required for salmon hatcheries to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Without approved plans, Washington’s salmon hatcheries are left vulnerable to lawsuits and closures.

So far NOAA has only approved 52 out of 391 Hatchery Genetic Management Plans. Cantwell pressed the agency on the lack of approvals.

“Do you think this is a challenge, that we that don’t have plans reviewed by NOAA?” Cantwell asked.

Sam Rauch, NOAA Deputy Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, stated the agency was having trouble processing the plans, but is making efforts to speed up the process.

“We increased our staff such that we can increase the throughput to 55 [plans] a year...We are behind and I don’t expect that by the end of the year we will get all of them done,” said Rauch.

Cantwell continued to ask about the consequences of the delayed process and pressured NOAA to speed up the approvals.

“At 55 a year it would take us another 6 years to process those plans, and the lawsuits being brought to stop hatchery production would obviously bring havoc for the industry.”

Salmon hatcheries are a central part of the fishery management strategy in the Pacific Northwest and support fisheries by supplementing the total stock available for fishing. Washington state hatcheries contribute 28,000 jobs statewide and nearly $5 billion dollars in economic activity per year.

Many hatcheries have submitted draft Hatchery Genetic Management Plans to NOAA for review for over a decade, yet NOAA has only reviewed and approved 13% of plans.

Cantwell has consistently supported investments in conservation and recovery of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act, including the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund which has restored more than 1,031,000 acres of essential salmon and steelhead habitat and opened 8,700 miles of streams for fish passage.