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Hatchery Review Seeks Priority Change

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 21, 2003

Study of Columbia Basin hatcheries suggests they should concentratev
more on upriver fish, less on fall chinook in lower river

A review of salmon and steelhead hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin calls on each hatchery to have clearly defined goals that mesh with goals for the entire river system.

It also said the hatchery program puts too much emphasis on producing fall chinook in the lower Columbia River to the detriment of up-river communities and fish runs most affected by dam construction.

The review, the first ever to look at nearly every fish hatchery in the Columbia River basin, was conducted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at the request of Congress.

The goal of the review is to guide Congress when it makes decisions about hatchery funding and policy. Hatcheries have existed in the basin for more than 100 years but there has not been a general goal to guide their operation.

"We really didn't know what was being produced and what was being released," said John Harrison, a spokesman for the council at Portland.

Harrison said the report pointed out the need for a general fish hatchery strategy in the region so the facilities don't work against one another.

"There needs to be a clear basin-wide direction for these hatcheries to make sure fish production meets environmental goals and policy goals in terms of sport and commercial harvest."

The power and conservation council, formally known as the Northwest Power Planning Council, surveyed every hatchery in the basin that releases fish into public waters.

It found that 88 percent of the region's 227 hatcheries produce salmon and steelhead and that half of those release their fish below Bonneville Dam.

The emphasis on fall chinook in the lower Columbia River means that in-river fishing seasons are compressed into a short time frame, and there are fewer fish, such as spring chinook, available at other times of the year.

The report says it may be wise to diversify funding and to include a better balance of species.

Hatcheries have played a role in the basin since the late 1800s and were built for a number of different reasons. Some were constructed to augment commercial harvest of salmon in rivers and the ocean.

Others were built to mitigate for habitat destroyed by dams and most recently hatcheries have been built to help recover salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Many of the hatcheries built to compensate for dam construction are funded under the federal Mitchell Act. But the government chose to build most of those hatcheries down river so the fish would not have to navigate through the dams.

That has been beneficial to sport and commercial anglers in the lower Columbia River and the ocean but not to upriver communities.

"If most of the fish are being released down by Bonneville or below, the communities upriver that maybe should be benefiting from some of these mitigating actions are not getting the full benefit," said Bruce Suzumoto, who worked on the review for the council.

David Johnson, director of the Nez Perce Tribes fisheries program at Lapwai, said it has been difficult for the tribes and others to pry funding away from the lower river hatcheries.

"Those seem to be just facts of life. The tribes have tried to make some inroads in the whole Mitchell Act business and move some of that funding upstream," he said.

Johnson said the review has good things to say about recently constructed tribal fish hatcheries and their emphasis on recovery of threatened and endangered fish, and the use of fish taken from local streams and rivers for hatchery brood stock.

The tribe releases hatchery steelhead that are not marked by having their adipose fins removed and are not available for harvest.

The review found that many hatcheries have conflicting goals or goals that are no longer relevant.

"The fisheries of today's Columbia River Basin are the products of management decisions over the past 127 years," says the report.

"Hatcheries have been slow to respond to changes in societal values and scientific insights," it goes on to say.

For example, many of the fall chinook that are released in the lower Columbia River are intended for commercial harvest in the ocean. Some of the releases are even dictated by treaties between the United States and Canada.

But prices for salmon have dropped, partly because of the growing influence of farmed salmon. That has led to some stocks not being heavily fished and more hatchery salmon returning and attempting to spawn with wild salmon.

Some fisheries biologists fear that could pose a threat to some wild populations, the report says, and hatcheries should take more care to guard against straying fish.

The review has not yet spurred any recommendations but is asking pertinent questions, such as what is the best balance of hatchery uses, according to Suzumoto.

He said the point of the review is to raise issues that need to be discussed. The council is taking public comments on the review until Nov. 28. The council will analyze the comments later this fall and sometime this spring make recommendations to Congress.

Related Sites:
The full draft report is available at:
Move Hatcheries Upstream, and Fish Harvest Too by Patrick McGann, Lewiston Tribune, 10/24/3

Eric Barker
Hatchery Review Seeks Priority Change
Lewiston Tribune, October 21, 2003

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