The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed protecting the Redfish Lake Sockeye salmon from extinction on the Snake River under the federal Endangered Species Act. The announcement raises the prospect of a regionwide struggle over water rights on the Columbia and Snake river systems in which fishery interests, including commercial, sport, and Native-American, will be pitted against proponents of low-cost hydroelectric power and irrigation districts.
At a news conference in Seattle, Rolland Schmitten, the fishery service's Northwest regional director, said scientific considerations - not economic factors - will determine the outcome of the endangered listing process for the sockeye.
Mr. Schmitten acknowledged protecting the species may result in higher electricity rates for the region and a ban on commercial fishing of the sockeye.
The proposal is the result of the agency's consideration of a 1990 petition filed by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hill Reservation to have the sockeye listed as endangered.
Since then, four more petitions have been filed for the protection of other species of salmon, including fall and spring Chinook. The fisheries service has until June 7 to act on those petitions.
Schmitten said the proposal to list the wild sockeye was the result of field observations that showed only two fish going downstream in 1989 and only one in 1990.