Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Endangered Species Act?
The Endangered Species Act was enacted by Congress in 1973 in response to an alarming decline of many animal and plant species. The ultimate goal of the act is to return endangered and threatened species to the point where they no longer need the law's protections. The act has three basic missions: (1) to identify species needing protection and the means necessary to protect and recover those species; (2) to prevent harm to listed species; and (3) to prevent and punish the so-called "taking" of listed species and destruction of their habitats.
A species is listed as "endangered" if it is in danger of extinction, or "threatened" if it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The act provides a variety of tools for saving species threatened with extinction. One widely used tool is the Habitat Conservation Plan, which offers protection to landowners from enforcement for taking a listed species in exchange for a promise to manage land in a way that minimizes impacts to listed species. Another tool is adoption of protective regulations, commonly called the "4(d) rules" named after a section in the act.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share responsibility for administration of the act, including responsibility for recovery plans for listed species. Generally, the National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for species in marine environments and anadromous fish, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees terrestrial and freshwater species and migratory birds.
There seems to be plenty of salmon at the market and in the restaurants. Are salmon really in trouble?Yes, salmon are at risk of extinction in three-fourths of the state. Most of the salmon we buy in stores or restaurants is not from here. It's from Alaska where salmon habitat is still pristine and populations are thought to be stable, or from fish farms in other countries. The relatively small amount of salmon from Washington State is mostly harvested from hatchery based populations or healthy wild stocks.
If salmon are threatened, why are we allowing any fishing at all?Some populations of wild salmon are healthy and can sustain some harvesting. Others are declining and must be protected. Hatchery fish, meanwhile, are raised to provide fishing opportunities throughout Washington. Sport and commercial harvest rates are set each season based on complex forecasts developed by federal, tribal, and state fishery managers. Learn more.
How can I tell a wild fish from a hatchery fish?
Hatchery-grown salmon with few exceptions are not considered native and are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. Many hatchery fish that are released into the wild are now "marked" by clipping the adipose fin on their upper body to distinguish them from wild salmon. Anglers now can identify hatchery fish by the missing fin, and return wild salmon to the water.
What is a watershed?
You're in one right now. A watershed is the area of land that water flows across or under on its way to a river, lake, or ocean. The water travels over the surface and across farms, forests, suburban lawns, and city streets. Or it seeps into the soil and travels as ground water. You live in a watershed, and it borders neighboring watersheds, even if there's no body of water anywhere near your home.