Lawsuit planned to protect Atlantic salmon
November 23, 1998
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- Trout Unlimited and a coalition of conservation groups led by Defenders of Wildlife, in separate actions, have both notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service of their intentions to sue the federal agencies for not listing the Atlantic salmon under the Endangered Species Act.
A 1995 proposal by the agencies to list the salmon in the state of Maine was usurped by the voluntary Atlantic Salmon Conservation Plan. The conservation groups say that this decision was illegal and the plan fails to ensure the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon.
"The available scientific evidence proves that wild Atlantic salmon in the United States are on the brink of extinction," said attorney Michael Senatore. "The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service disregarded the scientific evidence and violated their statutory mandate under the ESA when they accepted Maine's voluntary plan instead of federal listing."
"The Maine plan, as it stands right now, offers little -- other than the efforts of volunteers -- to improve the prospects for the return of wild Atlantic salmon to Maine's rivers," said Charles F. Gauvin, Trout Unlimited's president and CEO. "The courts have ruled time and time again that recovery plans based on voluntary efforts violate the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act. All the scientific evidence says that these fish are in grave jeopardy. The agencies should stop playing politics with our fish, put them on the list and get on with the real business of restoring them to our rivers." "TU's volunteers have worked for years to protect habitat for Atlantic salmon," said Jeff Reardon, chairman of the TU's Maine Council. "We have worked closely with the state to make its plan work, but in the end, the plan has to offer more than promises of voluntary efforts. Maine should stop looking for ways to short-circuit ESA listing and start looking for real, effective ways to restore Atlantic salmon. We welcome a sincere, vigorous state-led effort, but unless the state is willing to strengthen its plan, we don't think it should have the lead role in salmon restoration."
Endangered Species Act listing decisions are supposed to be based on science, however, as is often the case, the conservationists say that political and economic pressure resulted in Maine's adoption of the conservation plan.
"Refusal to list Atlantic salmon had little to do with science and everything to do with politics," said Senatore.
Defenders of Wildlife goes on to say that Maine Governor Angus King and several of the state's industries opposed federal listing of Atlantic salmon so they instead developed the state's Atlantic Salmon Conservation Plan.
"The agencies' refusal to list Atlantic salmon is a case study in politically driven and illegal decision-making under the Endangered Species Act," Senatore said.
U.S. Atlantic salmon numbers have declined from 2,603 returning to U.S. rivers in 1993 to 1,758 in 1997. Historically, U.S. Atlantic salmon numbered around half a million.
"The number of Atlantic salmon returning to U.S. rivers last year was one of the lowest ever recorded," says David Carle, executive director of the Conservation Action Project, a New England-based conservation organization.
While Endangered Species Act listing for Atlantic salmon will not replace the need for improved state and private conservation efforts, it will ensure a safety net that provides objectives and enforceable conservation standards, the groups say.
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