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-  Two-year lawsuit results in reduced release of juvenile salmon

Ending a two-year lawsuit, federal Circuit Court Judge Ancer Haggerty made a ruling that would affect not only the salmon in our region, but the people as well.

This year, the number of hatchery fish released into the Sandy River will decrease by 100,000 under a ruling that Haggerty made earlier this year. by: POST PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The Sandy Fish Hatchery is located just north of Sandy off Fish Hatchery Road.

That ruling and others from the judge were in response to a lawsuit filed by the Native Fish Society, a nonprofit fish conservation group based in Oregon City, against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Native Fish Society’s goal was to shut down hatchery production on the Sandy River, claiming that hatchery fish pose a threat to native fish found in the river.

Haggerty ruled that hatcheries on the Sandy River will continue to remain open.

Since the case was filed in March 2013, a group of Sandy business owners and residents have been working to protect hatchery production.

The Three Rivers Sportsman’s Alliance was formed “simply to battle this insanity,” said board member Greg Osburn. Three Rivers is an all-volunteer political action group focused on supporting and promoting hatchery operations in Oregon in order to enhance fishing opportunities for all fishermen.

As changes in hatchery operation brought on by the lawsuit begin to take effect, members of the Three Rivers Alliance fear fishing opportunities will greatly decrease in the Sandy River, affecting the sport fishing culture prevalent in the area.

In a study issued in 2013 by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry on the use of public lands, it was found that the existence of those lands positively affects the economy, especially through fishing.

According to the study, if Sandy River public lands attracted 5 percent of the total fishing activity within the area, it could be expected to account for 4,640 fishing day trips per year.

Economic benefits come along with folks going sport fishing in the area. There’s bait, lunch and sunscreen to buy. Not to mention large purchases such as RVs, coolers and other equipment, all of which could be purchased in the Sandy area.

And of course, fishing is not as fun without fish, Osburn said. As part of fishing regulation, any fish with a clipped fin, an indication of a hatchery fish, is safe to take home. Otherwise, if it’s a native fish, it must be thrown back. Osburn said he believes if fishermen can’t keep the fish, they won’t bother fishing in the area at all.

The Three Rivers Sportsman’s Alliance is particularly concerned about passing on the fishing tradition to children.by: POST PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The hatchery employs only a few people to take care of the fish, feeding them in the morning.

“Without ample opportunity to hook something,” said John Mayer, also a board member, “the youth aren’t going to be interested.”

Early in the case, Judge Haggerty ruled that this year the Sandy Hatchery would release only 132,000 smolt into the river, a significant difference from the usual 300,000.

After further litigation in the case, Judge Haggerty decided to raise the number of released hatchery smolt to 200,000.by: POST PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The smaller fish are kept indoors with their spawning groups until they are ready to be released.

Hatchery Manager Tim Foulk said they expect only a 2 percent return of grown salmon from that number. A loss of 100,000 growing smolt is a loss of 2,000 returned adult salmon.

Three Rivers recently helped produce a 30-minute documentary hoping to inform the public on hatchery operations and how they are meant to help the fish population, not harm it. It also was an effort to show how hatcheries affect the local economy.

Osburn said it’s all about getting the word out, and there are plenty of ways local fishermen can still show their support of hatcheries.by: POST PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The Sandy Hatchery has an adult fish habitat right at the entrance.

“Feel free to call the NFS office,” he said. “Feel free to boycott their donors.”

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