OLYMPIA – State fishery managers are working to minimize the effects of drought on fish at hatcheries across Washington state.
More than a dozen of the 83 fish hatcheries operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are experiencing low water levels or high water temperatures as a result of this year’s drought. Those conditions increase the likelihood of disease and can be fatal for fish.
“We’ve lost about 1.5 million juvenile fish this year due to drought conditions at our hatcheries,” said Ron Warren, WDFW salmon policy lead. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen for some time.”
Facilities located on the Green River system, for example, have been hit hard, Warren noted. The Soos Creek hatchery near Auburn lost half (34,000 fish) of its summer steelhead population and 153,000 coho (18 percent of the population) in the last month from diseases brought on by warm water temperatures.
WDFW is using re-circulation pumps and aerators to reduce the effects of warm water temperatures at hatcheries. The department also is providing medicated feed to fish in some situations to combat fungal and bacterial infections triggered by elevated water temperatures.
In some cases, WDFW is moving fish to facilities with cooler water and better water circulation. The department is sending coho to Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz Hatchery from its North Toutle facility after roughly 102,000 fish there died from disease caused by elevated water temperatures.
WDFW is also re-conditioning wells at the Kendall Creek Hatchery in Whatcom County in order to maintain or increase the water supply at that facility.
When all options have been exhausted, the department is releasing fish into streams and lakes ahead of schedule after consulting with tribal co-managers and federal partners. WDFW will release about 107,000 fall chinook (one-third of the population) from the Icy Creek Hatchery, also in the Green River drainage, after water flows there dropped nearly 50 percent in one week.
Those salmon are about eight months old. The chinook were intended to be released next July but are old enough to do well in the wild, Warren said.
“Fish can face harsh conditions in the wild when they’re young,” Warren said. “We’re taking steps within our hatcheries to maintain as many healthy fish as we can despite the challenges of drought.”
Find more information on the 2015 Washington Drought at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/drought/.