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Conservationists Can Sue to Protect Salmon & Trout

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Salmon Spawning & Recovery Alliance and two other conservation groups

can sue the federal government for failing to look at a treaty with Canada that allows Canadian fisheries to overharvest endangered and threatened wild salmon and steelhead trout, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1999, which manages chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout populations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, sets take levels that are too high, the groups say.

During pre-treaty consultations, the National Marine Fisheries Service told the state department that there would be "no jeopardy" to salmon populations under the treaty, exempting the agencies from Endangered Species Act provisions. While the service may have committed procedural violations pre-treaty, the plaintiffs cannot pursue those claims once the treaty is in place, the court ruled, as the only redress would involve renegotiating the treaty - a purely executive power.

However, the three-judge panel allowed the groups to pursue their case on one claim: that the state department and the service failed to reinitiate consultation in light of new information, an Endangered Species Act requirement. New data shows that the Canadian take is higher than estimated under the treaty and doesn't allow for sufficient species recovery. Nearly 75 percent of salmon caught in Canadian fisheries is listed endangered or threatened in the United States, the ruling states.

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