VANCOUVER–Federal budget cuts mean millions of young salmon and steelhead won't be raised in Columbia River watershed hatcheries for fishers.
The hatchery cuts will mean fewer fish will be available for sport, commercial and tribal fishers in upcoming years when the fish would have returned from the ocean as adults. The cuts also mean the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is forced to close its Beaver Creek Hatchery in Cathlamet.
Budget reductions apply to the Washington and Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Fish and Game Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Congress reduced Mitchell Act funds made available to the agencies by about 15 percent. The WDFW federal contribution is being cut 22 percent. This reduces the $6,149,507 needed to operate the hatcheries at the level at which they were operated in the last fiscal year to $4,822,600. The federal Mitchell Act supports hatchery operations on the Columbia to provide fishing opportunities. Dam construction and operation and other human activities have caused steep declines in most runs of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and its tributaries.
As a result of the cuts, WDFW on Dec. 1 will close its Beaver Creek Hatchery in Cathlamet and reduce hatchery production by millions of fish throughout the Columbia watershed.
"Coho and chinook salmon released in the Columbia are the backbone of important Washington fisheries, including those in the ocean off towns such as Westport and Ilwaco, and in the Columbia itself," said Jeff Koenings, WDFW director.
"We are doing everything we can by consolidating, improving and transferring production to ensure Washington sport, commercial and tribal fishers will continue to have meaningful fishing opportunities in the future," he added. "But I also can't pretend a cut of more than $1 million doesn't hurt our effort to balance wild salmon restoration with continued fishing."
Koenings also noted that hatchery steelhead reductions will mean fewer economic, cultural and recreational benefits for communities along the Columbia River and its tributaries.
Once the National Marine Fisheries Service identified the size of the cut WDFW would have to take, the agency used the following criteria to determine how and where to reduce production:
- Does the hatchery meet disease control policy or will production cuts mean better survival of fish due to less density in rearing ponds?
- Does production conflict with federal Endangered Species Act goals for wild fish?
- Are the adult fish produced by the hatchery underutilized by fishers or do few adults return from the ocean?
- Do other hatcheries have higher management priorities?
- Does the hatchery produce more fish than necessary to meet current fishing objectives?
Some reductions remain under negotiation with fish managers from the federal or tribal governments or from other states. In the meantime, however, WDFW is making the production cuts at the following hatcheries:
- Elochoman: 500,000 coho and one million fall chinook
- Beaver Creek: The hatchery will be closed and fish production will be cut by 181,000 steelhead and 30,000 sea-run cutthroat. Remaining fish production will be moved to the Elochoman Hatchery.
- North Toutle: 300,000 coho
- Lewis River: one million coho
- Skamania: 137,000 steelhead and 22,000 sea-run cutthroat
- Ringold: 1.1 million spring chinook but increases steelhead production by 75,000
WDFW operates more than 90 hatcheries which produce approximately 75 percent of all coho and chinook and 88 percent of the steelhead harvested in the state. It produces some 200 million salmon, 8.5 million steelhead and more than 22 million trout and warmwater fish. More than a third of the state's hatcheries are actively involved in efforts to restore wild salmon runs by raising and protecting young wild fish until they are ready to go to sea.
The Mitchell Act, passed by Congress in 1938, was designed to correct the serious and progressive decline of Columbia River salmon due to habitat destruction and water diversions, including those for hydroelectric dams. Mitchell Act funds have been used to produce hatchery fish and install screens and other devices to protect fish from irrigation diversion project. Funds also may be used other purposes to conserve fish in the Columbia Basin.