OLYMPIA - State and tribal fisheries officials have completed a major, two-year review of Puget Sound chinook salmon hatcheries that provides a comprehensive scientific framework for operations.
The review, called a Resource Management Plan, marks the first time that treaty Indian tribes on Puget Sound and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have jointly developed specific, scientific criteria for chinook hatchery operations on a regional basis.
The plan documents changes that have already been made, and provides guidance for future changes. The document is expected to serve as a framework for efforts to recover naturally spawning chinook populations, fisheries officials said.
"This plan is a major step in achieving the assessment necessary to thoroughly modernize our joint operations and facilities," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings
"The state and tribes have worked very hard over the past two years to do the assessments necessary to correct any deficiencies, Koenings added. "These corrections will take both time and money. I believe completing this major review demonstrates our commitment to move forward as expeditiously as possible while continuing to operate much needed facilities."
"Hatchery programs are essential to the recovery of many severely depressed wild chinook runs," said Billy Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. "Hatchery production is necessary to provide an opportunity for the tribes to exercise their treaty-reserved fishing rights. Hatcheries will continue to play an important role in salmon management."
WDFW and the tribes have provided the plan to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing recovery of the federally listed Puget Sound chinook. A companion review by the state and tribes of chinook harvest practices was previously submitted to NMFS and approved.
While the findings and recommendations in the review are expected to assist in naturally spawning chinook recovery efforts, they are also expected to be used extensively in the broader effort now underway to reform all hatchery practices in Puget Sound and coastal Washington. The goal is to ensure the facilities meet the dual mandate of helping recover naturally spawning salmon as well as providing for sustainable fisheries.
The hatchery reform effort, launched in 2000 by the state, tribes, federal government and facilitated by the conservation group Long Live the Kings, is being led by a group of independent scientists and is supported by Congressman Norm Dicks, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Governor Gary Locke.
"While a lot of everyone's efforts these days is rightfully focused on restoring threatened chinook populations in Puget Sound, it's also important that the broader, hatchery reform movement continue to move forward," Koenings said. "We're entering a new era for hatchery operations in Washington state, one that will require a tremendous commitment from many quarters."
WDFW and the Puget Sound treaty Indian tribes operate more than 40 chinook hatcheries in Puget Sound that produce chinook for recreational and commercial purposes. Most of those hatcheries have been operating for decades as ongoing mitigation for lost fish-producing habitat. In fact, about 85 per cent of fish production from state facilities is for long term mitigation.
Over the past decade the state and treaty tribes have substantially reduced hatchery production in watersheds with indigenous chinook populations. Hatchery production has increased only in watersheds where a hatchery is being used to recover a threatened population through a captive broodstock program. In addition, the co-managers have largely eliminated the use of non-local stocks for hatchery programs.
State and tribal managers believe the plan is a significant step towards improving hatchery operations while recognizing the role hatcheries play in mitigating for land and water-use decisions that have resulted in the permanent loss and degradation of salmon producing habitat.
The plan also is significant because state and tribal chinook production programs are, in many respects, operationally linked. For example, the facilities often operate in the same watersheds, exchange eggs and share rearing space to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the hatchery programs.
The plan includes a host of specific improvements at several facilities to minimize any adverse impacts of hatchery operations on naturally spawning fish populations, and calls for substantial commitments to research and monitoring to answer further questions on the impacts of hatchery origin salmon.
Until such studies are complete, the plan calls for a number of actions to minimize risks posed by ecological interactions, including terminating net pen operations at a number of locations and changing production levels and operations at some hatcheries.
Other immediate changes will be put in place to reduce potential risks posed by interactions between hatchery origin and naturally spawning fish, including changes in hatchery release practices. The plan also calls for maintaining state-of-the art fish health monitoring, facility disinfecting and disease management procedures presently used during hatchery operations.
In addition to providing the hatchery plan to NMFS, WDFW and the tribes have prepared individual Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMPs) for each chinook production program in the Puget Sound area. The HGMPs outline specific production practices for each chinook production program, and are being reviewed by NMFS as part of the chinook recovery process.
Koenings emphasized that "a robust, viable science-based hatchery program not only will continue, but is essential in our state's efforts to provide for sustainable recreational and commercial opportunity while restoring cherished chinook populations and their habitats."