Fish fry fate no longer in limbo

Ruling allows salmon to be released, stops stocking program after that

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton on Tuesday permanently enjoined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing further permits to operate the Tustumena Lake Sockeye Salmon Enhancement Project.

Singleton made an exception in his ruling. The judgment allows the agency to issue one final permit to Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association so that the organization, which has been conducting the stocking program for years, may release some 6 million salmon fry being raised at Trail Lakes Hatchery into Bear Creek prior to July 1.

The fry are from eggs taken from Bear Creek in the summer of 2003. Without the permit, hatchery officials might have had to destroy the 6 million fish.

The judgment derives from a suit filed in 1998 by The Wilderness Society against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Society attorneys argued that the stocking program violated provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act prohibiting commercial enterprises in national wilderness areas.

The USFWS won initial rounds in lower federal courts that ruled in favor of the stocking program.

The case eventually reached the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, which ruled in favor of The Wilderness Society and its co-plaintiff, the Alaska Center for the Environment, in December 2003.

In March, the 9th Circuit decided to leave a decision regarding the fate of the 6 million fry in the hands of the Alaska District Court judge. Both sides applauded that decision.

Gov. Frank Murkowski hailed the ruling as a glimmer of hope in the case, noting that the state believed the 9th Circuit had reached the wrong conclusion in the larger case.

Meanwhile, Wilderness Society officials said the group had been actively seeking an alternative stocking location for the fish to avoid their destruction.

This week's decision clears up that problem.

Singleton's judgment formally granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment establishing that the Tustumena Lake stocking program violates the Wilderness Act, and enjoining USFWS from issuing further permits, except for one this summer to salvage the hatchery fry.

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