(CN) — The Biden administration said Tuesday it will consider adding Chinook salmon in Oregon and Northern California to the endangered or threatened species lists.
"Based on information provided by the petitioners, as well as information readily available in our files, we find that hatcheries and climate change may be posing threats to the continued existence of SONCC Chinook salmon," the notice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, said.
The decision comes in response to a petition from three nonprofit organizations — the Native Fish Society, Center for Biological Diversity, and Umpqua Watersheds — filed this past August, and is based on a 90-day review. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will now conduct a longer review, expected to be concluded in August of this year, before deciding whether or not the species — the largest of the salmonids — is eligible for protected status. Should it clear that hurdle, there would still be a proposed listing rule and final public comment period before the California and Oregon Chinook makes the list.
"It’s a good step in the right direction for protecting the Chinook salmon," said Margaret Townsend, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The science is clear. In particular, the spring-run Chinook, they're doing pretty badly."
In 2021, the three nonprofits had petitioned to get the spring-run Chinook listed as a separate evolutionary significant unit, and get that species added to the list. But NOAA declined, saying that listing the spring-run as separate from the other Chinooks was "not warranted."
According to the petition filed by the three nonprofits, nearly all the populations of spring-run Chinook salmon are declining, and some have been rendered extinct or near extinction.
"By the 1950s," the petition reads, most of the spring-run populations of coastal Oregon and Northern California Chinook salmon "were severely depressed or extirpated due to a combination of habitat degradation, commercial fisheries, and negative impacts of artificial propagation through hatcheries. A myriad of state management plans have documented significant declines in spring-run numbers between the 1950s and present time."
The spring-run Chinooks on the West Coast "are now a very small fraction of their historical abundance," according to the petition. There are numerous reasons for their decline, including the construction of dams, water diversions and logging. Climate change has also had a big effect.
"As we face more frequent drought, wildfire, climate change, the likelihood that the spring-run Chinook salmon will have habitat that supports them through the summer so they can spawn in the fall is highly unlikely," Townsend said.
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