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Central California coast steelhead trout

Central Valley Business Times, October 28, 2008

Central Valley wild steelhead trout must be protected says court

The Central Valley’s remaining populations of wild steelhead trout must be protected from too much human use of the region’s limited freshwater, a federal curt says.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno has rejected lawsuits by the Modesto Irrigation District and other irrigation districts as well as the state’s logging industry that had sought to strip federal protected status from the fish.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented loggers and water users, argued that the National Marine Fisheries Service must make Endangered Species Act listing decisions based simply on the numbers of hatchery steelhead produced each year.

It sought to have the court remove five separate populations of steelhead from the list of endangered species based on the presence of hatchery fish.

In the second case, the Modesto Irrigation District and other irrigators argued that ocean-going Central Valley steelhead fish should be removed from the endangered species list based on their opinion that freshwater resident rainbow trout might someday replace extinct steelhead populations.

The two cases were merged for a single ruling, with Judge Wanger disagreeing with the arguments of the irrigators and loggers.

“Under the totality of the circumstances, in a case riddled with complex and uncertain scientific information, deference is owed to the agency’s expert knowledge of the subject matter,” the judge says in supporting the federal protections.

“Plaintiffs have not established that the agency relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider; entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem; offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency; or issued a decision so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or product of agency expertise,” the ruling says.

Environmental groups were pleased with the decision.

"We need wild steelhead in California's rivers," says Steve Mashuda, an attorney with Earthjustice, the legal organization which represented fishing groups and others in the action who opposed the delisting of the fish.

David Hogan of the Center for Biological Diversity says science has shown that even where steelhead and rainbow trout mix with one another, steelhead must be protects “or you won't have any fish at all."

Yet to be seen is how the ruling might impact release of water from the reservoirs of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project to protect the steelhead trout.

Copyright Central Valley Business Times © 2008

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton