OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will continue to operate the McKernan Hatchery in Shelton under a partnership with a commercial fishing organization that could become a model for future agreements.
Under a contract approved last week, the Seattle-based Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association (PSVOA) will pay WDFW $157,825 per year to continue operating the hatchery, which produces approximately half of all juvenile chum salmon released into Hood Canal.
In response to state budget reductions, WDFW was prepared to close the 31-year-old hatchery July 1, unless a qualified partner could be found to cover the cost of continuing operations. The purse seine organization was one of three applicants for that role, said Heather Bartlett, WDFW hatcheries manager.
“The department’s basic criteria were a long-term commitment and certainty of funding for current operations at the hatchery,” Bartlett said. “This is a new direction for WDFW in that this is the first partnership of this kind we’ve had with a private organization.”
Bartlett said the partnership is consistent with provisions of House Bill 1951, approved by the state Legislature last year to promote public-private partnerships that support “the resumption or continued operation and management of state-owned salmonid hatcheries.”
“With budgets getting tighter every year, we will need to look for creative new ways to fund more of our facilities in the years ahead,” Bartlett said.
Established in 1936, the PSVOA is a non-profit organization representing more than 400 vessel owners operating along the West Coast and throughout Alaska.
“We cannot afford to lose salmon production,” said Bob Kehoe, PSVOA executive director. “This partnership demonstates the need for cooperation, and we will actively reach out to all who benefit from the Puget Sound salmon fisheries.”
Under the terms of its contract with WDFW, the PSVOA will pay the state’s cost of operating both the chum salmon program and a recovery project for wild steelhead at the hatchery. Kehoe said the Suquamish Tribe, which also fishes for chum salmon in Puget Sound, made a major financial commitment to make the partnership a success.
For its part, WDFW will maintain ownership of the hatchery, pay for any maintenance costs and continue to operate the facility with its existing two-person staff.
WDFW currently operates 87 fish hatcheries throughout the state, 75 percent of which produce salmon and steelhead. The McKernan facility releases 10 million juvenile chum salmon and 28,500 steelhead smolts each year.