FINAL STEELHEAD LISTING EXCLUDES VITAL SOUTHERN FISH POPULATIONS
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 23, 2005
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today announced final Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions for 10 populations of west coast steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The decision reaffirms the endangered status of southern steelhead and the threatened status of south-central and central coast steelhead in California, but excludes resident rainbow trout and steelhead trout landlocked above dams from the listed populations.
“All forms of steelhead including resident and juvenile fish should be protected from the Bay Area south, since many southern streams have only remnant populations of ocean-run fish,” said Jeff Miller, wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Adult steelhead do not make it every year into our drier southern streams, which are impaired by water diversions, and as a result resident fish and trout trapped above dams are an important genetic component for maintaining and restoring steelhead runs,” added Miller.
Under the controversial new listing policy for steelhead, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will retain jurisdiction over resident trout populations. The USFWS has made no listing proposal for southern populations of resident trout and is unlikely to voluntarily list these fish under the Bush administration, which has consistently opposed protections for endangered species. The decision today also excludes stream reaches without anadromous fish from designated critical habitat for steelhead.
“The new policy does not make sense biologically since it arbitrarily divides steelhead populations, listing only anadromous adult fish yet excluding trout below dams that can interbreed with migratory steelhead and even the offspring of steelhead when they are rearing in streams,” said Miller.
Rainbow and steelhead trout are different life forms of the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss. Rainbows stay in streams as resident fish whereas steelhead migrate to the ocean and return to streams to spawn and rear. NMFS had proposed in June to include resident trout and some landlocked steelhead in the listed west coast populations. Today’s listing announcement is at www.nwr.noaa.gov.
Conservation groups are particularly concerned about the effect of today’s decision on steelhead trout at the southern end of their range, where anadromous steelhead are exceedingly rare due to the impacts of dams, water diversions and urban development. There is significant evidence of close genetic relationships between resident trout and steelhead trout in the Santa Ynez River, Ventura River, Matilija Creek, Santa Clara River, Piru Creek and Sespe Creek in southern California, and in Alameda Creek in the southern San Francisco Bay.
The southern California population includes fish from the Santa Maria River in San Luis Obispo County to the U.S.-Mexico border; the south-central population includes fish from the Pajaro River on the border of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties to the Santa Maria River; and the central coast population includes fish from the Russian River in Sonoma County to Aptos Creek in Santa Cruz County, and the drainages of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun Bays.
The CBD joined the Environmental Defense Center and California Trout in submitting extensive comments on why the new NMFS policy is scientifically unjustified, arbitrary, and unlawful. The groups advocate listing all resident trout below dams in the three southernmost listed steelhead populations (from the Bay Area south). They also advocate that landlocked steelhead above dams should also be listed on a case-by-case basis where there is evidence showing a close genetic relationship to adjacent below-manmade barrier steelhead populations or where landlocked trout exhibit continued “steelhead” behavior.