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The vigilante accused of holding migrants at border to appear in court today. Also on our Monday rundown: The US Supreme Court takes up including citizenship questions on the next census this week. Plus, Earth Day finds oceans becoming plastic soup.

Daily Newscasts

NW Eulachon: A Little Fish with a Big Problem

January 27, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some rivers in Oregon, Washington and California are part of a federal proposal to save a small forage fish that was declared a threatened species about a year ago. Groups that want to protect the fish say the proposal is a start, but does not go far enough.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wants to designate the rivers as critical habitat for the eulachon, a type of smelt native to the Northwest that has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The eulachon is a major food source for other types of fish and wildlife.

At hearings in Portland on Wednesday, NOAA outlined its habitat plan and took public comments. Some, including Ben Enticknap, Oregon project manager for the conservation group Oceana, said it's a good first step. However, he points out that eulachon spend most of their lives in the ocean, not in the rivers.

"They're not proposing any marine waters to be designated as critical, which we think is a major shortcoming in this proposal. We think that they do have enough information to identify those areas."

In addition to the Columbia River, the Oregon rivers proposed as critical eulachon habitat are the Sandy and Umpqua, as well as Tenmile Creek and Winchester Bay. The designation would require that any federal actions don't jeopardize their survival in these areas, where the fish spawn.

The agency lists numerous threats to eulachon in its proposal, including climate change, dams, dredging, pollution and port activity, but it does not mention commercial fishing. Enticknap says fishing for eulachon has been prohibited, but trawling for pink shrimp also kills hundreds of thousands of eulachon every year.

"The state of Oregon and the trawl fishermen are working to put in reduction devices that would reduce the number of eulachon taken as bi-catch. But I think we have to be honest and ask, 'Is that going to be enough?'"

NOAA's plan mentions the importance of near-shore habitat, because that's where the juvenile fish feed and grow, but says it does not have enough information about the eulachon's ocean distribution to protect its habitat there.

The Portland hearing is the only one NOAA has scheduled so far, but comments about the plan can be made in writing through March 7. Background on the species and a link to the proposal can be found at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR