OLYMPIA—Joint efforts to modify hatchery and harvest practices, along with continued efforts to recover habitat and improve hydropower projects, are needed continue recovery of the state’s wild salmon, U.S. Rep Norm Dicks and others told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in a special meeting here this week.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Gregoire believes successful salmon recovery efforts require that “all partners are at the table,” and that the state and Indian tribes work cooperatively as co-managers of salmon populations, Kathleen Drew, a policy advisor to the governor, told the commission.
Dicks recommended expanding the number of mark-selective fisheries that allow anglers to identify and release wild fish and keep only hatchery fish. Dicks said he does not favor reducing hatchery production of salmon, and thus supports continuation of a strong hatchery system to sustain fish recovery programs as well as produce fish for harvest. By removing hatchery-produced salmon from the water through selective fisheries, fewer hatchery fish spawn in the wild and the genetic integrity of wild fish is increased, Dicks said.
The congressman has strongly supported funding for mass marking all hatchery-produced salmon in facilities receiving federal funds. Mass marking removes the adipose fin of hatchery fish, so they can later be distinguished from wild fish both in fisheries and on the spawning grounds.
Dicks praised new selective fishing opportunities for hatchery chinook salmon in several areas of central Puget Sound. New selective fisheries initiated in 2007 mark the first time in more than a decade that anglers have been allowed to catch and keep adult chinook salmon in the area from Admiralty Inlet to the northern end of Vashon Island. These two selective fisheries are among seven new recreational Puget Sound mark-selective chinook fishing opportunities implemented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) this year.
The new Puget Sound summer selective chinook fisheries are “the most successful ones I’ve seen,” Dicks said.
Selective fisheries for hatchery coho salmon have been in place on the entire Washington coast since 1999. WDFW expanded summer selective recreational fisheries for hatchery chinook expanded to the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Sekiu to Port Angeles in 2003, and a winter selective chinook fishery was put in place in Marine Area 8 in northern Puget Sound two years ago.
Selective fisheries that remove hatchery-produced salmon are helping to increase the number of wild fish that return to the spawning grounds, said Jeff Koenings, Ph.D., WDFW director.
Many of the wild salmon populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) have shown increases in spawning fish numbers since listing, Koenings said.
In its efforts to recover wild salmon, WDFW is pursuing “a synergy” of selective fisheries, hatchery reform and habitat restoration, as well as working with hydropower project managers as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dam-relicensing process, Koenings said.
Meanwhile, WDFW is reorganizing staff efforts to integrate hatchery, habitat and harvest management of salmon and steelhead under a planning effort being developed jointly with Long Live the Kings, a non-government organization, he added. Of the more than 1,000 changes in hatchery practices recommended by the independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), WDFW has implemented more than 600 improvements as part of a long term hatchery improvement effort.
The state’s hatchery system, the largest in the world, can be used as a tool to help conserve naturally spawning salmon and steelhead populations while supporting sustainable fisheries, HSRG scientists told the commission. The independent panel reviewed Puget Sound hatchery operations and issued its recommendations in 2004, and is currently reviewing Columbia River basin hatchery operations.
Additional mass-marking of hatchery-produced fish to distinguish them from wild stocks, changes in broodstock management and modifications to some hatchery facilities were identified as key hatchery reform requirements by the HSRG representatives.