Portland, OR — Environmental and sport-fishing groups today filed a legal action to keep intact the Fish Passage Center. The Center’s experts provide analysis of fish runs and river operations to protect and enhance salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other fish moving through the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. The Fish Passage Center plays a critical role in monitoring whether native fish stocks are able to traverse a series of dams to reach their spawning grounds.
Late last year, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) added language to a Congressional committee report that the Fish Passage Center should no longer receive funding from the Bonneville Power Administration and the functions should be transferred to a private entity. Craig was angry at the Center for reporting reduced salmon migration during the previous year. The Center’s figures were relied upon by a federal district court judge in ordering greater water releases from dams this past summer to aid salmon migration.
On December 8, 2005, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) issued a solicitation for another entity to perform “Key Functions previously performed by the Fish Passage Center.” BPA is slated to make an announcement as soon as Thursday about its intentions to implement the report language that Craig slipped into its annual appropriations bill.
The legal petition, filed by Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA), asks the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to declare attempts by the BPA to replace the Fish Passage Center illegal, in violation of the provisions of the Northwest Power Act. Moreover, the groups argue that a Committee report does not carry the force of law.
“BPA is ignoring the program adopted to protect fish and mitigate impacts from hydropower operations,” stated Stephanie Parent of the Pacific Advocacy Center who filed the petition. “BPA cannot act unilaterally under the Northwest Power Act; it must involve the public and stakeholders.”
While Craig has complained the Center engages in “advocacy science,” the Center’s reports are mathematical compilations of fish passage data. The Center’s work is publicly posted on its web site.
“Senator Craig is trying to kill the timekeeper because he does not want to be told he is running late,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “This type of political intrusion has a chilling effect on every expert employed by the federal government who honestly reports findings on any issue with potential political controversy.”
The groups also point out that BPA’s action will disrupt data collection and threaten the quality and consistency of the information available.
“One man's political maneuvering must not be allowed to trump science and the law. NEDC has worked for thirty years on habitat for threatened and endangered fish stocks in the Columbia Basin, said Mark Riskedahl of NEDC. “We need to see the Fish Passage Center’s work to continue.”