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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chinook Salmon Get Experimental Help

WASHINGTON (CN) - Chinook salmon threatened by the Friant Dam in California will get recovery help in the form of an experimental population adopted by federal regulators.

In a rule proposed earlier this year, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acknowledged that the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River nearly wiped out the Central Valley (CV) spring-run Chinook salmon runs because the operation of associated irrigation canals caused the river to run dry in many areas.

A coalition of environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council challenged the renewal of the dam authority's water service contracts in 1988. After 18 years of litigation, the environmental groups, the Friant Water Authority, and the Departments of Interior and Commerce, which jointly oversee the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), finally reached a settlement.

Regulators listed the evolutionarily significant unit of the Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon as threatened under the ESA in 2005 and confirmed them as threatened in 2011 after a five-year review.

In addition to a restoration goal for the fish population, the 2006 settlement also establishes a water-management goal to reduce water-supply changes that the restoration flows established in the settlement may produce.

The NMFS, under the Department of Commerce, closely followed the regulations published by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the implementation of Section 10(j) of the ESA for the establishment of experimental populations of threatened species.

The experimental population is designated as nonessential because the NMFS had concluded that "the loss of the experimental San Joaquin River population of CV spring-run Chinook salmon is not likely to appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival of the species in the wild."

Regulators also determined, however, that the nonessential experimental population, or NEP, would further the conservation of the salmon and contribute to its recovery, according to the action.

The reintroduced fish will come from a hatchery and will be released into currently unoccupied areas of the San Joaquin River, Merced River and Kings River that are within the species' historical range. The fish will be marked by fin clips or other methods of identifying fish, and they are not expected to stray into the independent populations in the Sacramento River basin.

Regulators will monitor the NEP and subject it to the five-year status review. The regulation currently has no expiration date and is effective Jan. 30.

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