Feds sued again for allegedly causing infection of Klamath River salmon

Two federal agencies are the target of a second lawsuit alleging they violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing up to 90 percent of juvenile Klamath River coho salmon to become infected by an intestinal parasite in 2014 and 2015.

The Yurok Tribe and three fishing and environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging two federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing up to 91 percent of threatened juvenile coho on the Klamath River to become infected by parasites in 2014 and 2015. Chris Adams — California Department of Fish and Wildlife

“Rather than taking action to improve river conditions to recover endangered coho salmon, NOAA Fisheries attempted to allow higher parasite infection rates,” said Konrad Fisher, director of Klamath Riverkeeper, one of four entities that filed the litigation last week. “The agency is neglecting its duty to recover endangered salmon runs.”

The Yurok Tribe, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service on Nov. 29. The litigation states the federal agencies’ management of Klamath River dam water releases resulted in 90 percent of juvenile salmon to become infected by an intestinal parasite in 2015. Studies conducted by North Coast tribes found 81 percent of juvenile salmon were also infected in 2014.

The litigants state this infection rate is higher than what is allowed under the National Marine Fisheries Services’ 2013 biological opinion and that the agency is considering raising the allowable infection rate during drought years rather than working to prevent infection. Klamath Basin coho salmon are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

This is the second lawsuit to be filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service this year regarding Klamath River coho salmon.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe filed the first lawsuit against the two federal agencies in late July.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s representing attorney Tom Schlosser said he has been in contact with the Yurok Tribe’s attorney and the other plaintiffs’ attorneys and said there are no conflicts. Schlosser called the infection of juvenile coho salmon “outrageous” and said it is “tragic” that the federal agencies “waited so long without doing something about fish disease.”

“The thing that’s discouraging about this is the agencies have waited until the judge tells them to follow the law instead of just following the law,” he said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and Bureau of Reclamation both declined to comment due to the active litigation.

The Karuk Tribe will also consider this week whether to file an Endangered Species Act lawsuit against the two agencies, according to Craig Tucker, the tribe’s natural resources policy advocate.

“It’s something we are considering and discussing,” Tucker said.

The two lawsuits filed so far are calling for the two federal agencies to develop a plan to increase flows using dam water releases during the spring in order to flush parasites out from the waters. Spring is also when young coho salmon on the Klamath River migrate to the ocean after their freshwater upbringing.

The Karuk and Yurok tribes had filed notices of intent to sue the bureau and fisheries service back in June, but held off on filing lawsuits as they discussed a possible settlement with the agencies. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper also filed a notice of intent to sue the agencies in July.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s lawsuit is currently set to go before a federal judge on Jan. 11, who will decide whether to issue an injunction on the National Marine Fisheries Service and Bureau of Reclamation requiring the agencies to develop a new flow plan.

Tucker said this upcoming court hearing “forces the issue for the rest of us,” which he said prompted the second lawsuit to be filed. But he also said the timing of the judge’s decision is important as water management in the winter will determine how much water will be allocated to fish in the spring and summer.

“This has to be solved pretty soon in order to affect water deliveries for next year,” Tucker said.

These past years of drought have caused low flows on the Klamath River, which in turn allowed parasites and their immediate hosts to remain in pools and reservoirs longer and infect more salmon. The low flows also heated up the water and stressed fish immune systems even further, making them more susceptible to disease.

Water releases from dams are used to flush the river and its pools of these parasites and intermediate hosts while also cooling the water.

The National Marine Fisheries Services drafted a biological opinion on the intestinal parasite in 2013, which provided guidance to the Bureau of Reclamation on how it should be managing the dams on the Klamath River.

Under that opinion, up to 49 percent of juvenile salmon in the Klamath River are allowed be infected by the intestinal parasite as a result of the bureau’s dam operations. If the infection rates climb above 49 percent, the Bureau of Reclamation is obligated to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to discuss possible changes of operations.

After the disease outbreaks in 2014 and early 2015, the Bureau of Reclamation wrote a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking consultation about the “unprecedented, multi-year drought conditions” on the river.

The National Marine Fisheries Service responded nine months later stating its biological opinion is still valid as it is “expected that environmental conditions during consecutive dry years would be particularly poor and associated disease risks would be higher.”

The service also stated it plans to revise the biological opinion before April 2017, specifically revising how many salmon would be allowed to be harmed or killed by the parasite in these drier, low-flow years.

Article by: Will Houston
Published by: Eureka Times Standard, Dec 5 2016
Read original here.

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