Endangered Pacific salmon returning to Washington and Idaho rivers are strictly regulated by the federal government. Endangered Atlantic salmon returning to Maine rivers are under the control of the state.
Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, wants to know why. She suspects politics.
But the National Marine Fisheries Services says it’s not politics, it’s because Maine did what Washington and Idaho failed to do - propose their own plans to protect their fish.
In a recent House Resources Committee hearing, Chenoweth said the fisheries service has focused most of its efforts to protect endangered species on the Pacific Coast.
“All of the emphasis has been on the West instead of the East or instead of having it spread equally,” Chenoweth said in an interview.
In the West, the fish are controlled by the fisheries service, according to type of salmon and the river in which they swim. The designations are as specific as the Sacramento River Winter Chinook and the Snake River Fall Chinook.
Although the Atlantic salmon spawn in about seven different Maine rivers, they have not been divided up at all, Chenoweth said.
Eastern fish were also in line for listing as endangered but were eventually dropped from consideration.
Paul Nickerson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast chief of the endangered species division, said Chenoweth has it all wrong.
Salmon that spawn in seven of Maine’s rivers were being considered for an endangered label until the state proposed its own plan. The six-year plan, approved last December by the fisheries service, has state government, private industry and local residents cooperating to restore Atlantic salmon without federal intervention. The state promised to do a better job enforcing existing laws while a watershed council of volunteers oversees river conditions and identifies problems.
Under the new plan, Maine and the fisheries service do monitor salmon according to river. They collect young salmon from each river and raise them to maturity in hatcheries, Nickerson said. Mature salmon are then returned to breed in the same river from which they were taken.
Stephen Brooke, a Maine fisherman working with the state on the plan, said many people believe Maine’s salmon plan was designed to fail.
“The state has not funded the positions that would be needed to coordinate the volunteer efforts, so there is significant skepticism of the genuine interest of the state in protecting these fish,” he said.
Similarly, skeptics have said the threat of federal salmon listing is what is motivating Washington lawmakers, businesses and citizens to begin talking in earnest about restoring salmon.
Legislators agreed within the last month to spend $45 million this year to begin planning efforts to stave off salmon listings. Next year, lawmakers are expected to tackle the more complex task of crafting detailed proposals, and finding the means to pay for them.
State governments are put in a difficult situation when it comes to dealing with endangered species, Brooke said. They often have to balance protection against employment and use of natural resources.
As a local fisherman, he said he desperately hopes the plan does not fail. If it does, it will mean the extinction of Atlantic salmon in Maine, he said.
Washington and Idaho want the chance to manage their own species, Chenoweth said. She believes the power and responsibility for those tasks should be handed over to the states because federal agencies are “out of touch with the on-the-ground peculiarities of the region.”
But Chenoweth’s office said she has no current legislation involving her desire for the states to manage their own fish, nor is she planning any for the future.
Scott Smullen, a spokesman for the fisheries services, said the agency would be willing to consider a plan similar to Maine’s for Washington or Idaho salmon. But the two states have never proposed one.
He also believes Chenoweth has drawn a false conclusion. The reason more money and efforts are spent in the West is because the West has more problems.
“There is a wide range of different watershed issues in the Northwest as compared to smaller, more similar habitats in the East,” he said.
The West also has more species and dams, which are absent from Eastern rivers.
The Northwest director of Friends of the Earth, Shawn Cantrell, said he would like to see Western states maintain their own species, if they can do it successfully.
If states can develop strong plans to restore endangered species, that’s “an applaudable activity,” Cantrell said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OUT WEST Fish in the West are controlled by the fisheries service, according to type of salmon and the river in which they swim.