SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Hoopa Valley Tribe sued the federal government again over the plight of the endangered coho salmon, claiming Wednesday that fishing management agencies are trying to skirt their own laws with this year’s salmon catch regulations.
For almost 20 years, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council – which oversee ocean fisheries on the west coast – have used the same method to calculate how many coho salmon will be lost during the Chinook salmon ocean harvest. Although the harvest targets Chinook salmon, it threatens coho salmon that are incidentally caught.
In 1999, the NMFS released a biological opinion that allowed only 13 percent of coho salmon to be killed each year, including from fish harvesting.
This March, the council released a report that said to stay below the standard 13 percent of coho deaths, the Chinook ocean harvest rate would need to be between 7.9 and 9 percent. But a month later, it issued a new report that said the Chinook harvest could increase to 11 percent, while the coho would only experience a 5.5 percent mortality rate.
The NMFS approved the new numbers in May without analyzing this new information, the lawsuit says.
“Actions taken by the federal government have made the situation with coho salmon worse and worse,” Hoopa Valley attorney Thomas Schlosser said in a phone call Wednesday. “The tribe really cares about coho salmon and they are determined to see coho recover. It’s not clear to us that we’re seeing any progress this year.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the NMFS, which both promulgates fishing regulations and administers the ESA regarding threatened species, failed to consult within itself to make sure these new numbers comport with the law, according to the tribe.
“Whether they’re right or not, saying they can take more Chinook— that is new information that ought to be considered by the fisheries biologist to determine the effect on the coho salmon,” Schlosser said. “They never considered the new information.”
The Hoopa Tribe – which along with the Yurok Tribe holds fishing rights on the Klamath River by treaty – fears over-fishing. The treaty entitles the Hoopa Tribe to 50 percent of the total harvestable quantity of salmon. Although the Klamath River fishery is a mainstay of tribal life, fewer salmon return to the river every year from the Pacific Ocean partly as a result of excessive ocean fishing.
The tribe wants to force the NMFS to reinitiate a formal consultation on how the ocean fish harvest will affect coho salmon.
The Hoopa and Yurok tribes are just coming off a win in another federal case against the government over Klamath River protections for salmon. In 2017, U.S. District Judge William Orrick required the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to divert Klamath River water, some allocated for farms and ranches, to flush out parasite-hosting worms that cause deadly infections in threatened juvenile salmon.
The two tribes sued the Bureau in 2016, claiming its bungled management of Klamath River waterways allowed a deadly parasite called C. shasta to infect 91 percent of juvenile coho salmon.
“We succeeded, and this is another complicated case, but Hoopa is really concerned about protecting coho salmon and they’re going to keep doing this until the salmon come back,” Schlosser said.