Judge rules hatchery fish don’t count when determining ESA status

A federal judge in Washington state has overturned a contentious Bush administration policy that had tallied hatchery-raised fish as well as wild populations when determining the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act. Under that policy, that a collection of green groups sued to overturn, upper Columbia River steelhead had been listed as threatened instead of endangered due to the inclusion of millions of hatchery-raised fish in making the determination. “The court concludes that in evaluating any policy or listing determination under the ESA, its pole star must be the viability of naturally self-sustaining populations in their naturally occurring habitat, ” U.S. District Judge John Coughenour wrote in his decision. “To be sure, the inclusion of hatchery fish alongside natural fish … strikes the court as odd.” The ruling, welcomed by conservation groups, is at odds with a 2001 decision by another federal judge who ruled hatchery fish should be counted when determining a species’ ESA status. Wednesday’s decision is likely to be appealed.