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Draft Resource Management Plan: Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Hatcheries (a component of the Comprehensive Chinook Salmon Management Plan)

Category: Fish/Shellfish Research and Management - Management and Conservation

Number of Pages: 137

Author(s): Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife & Puget Sound Treaty Tribes


Northwest Native Americans called the largest of the salmon the tyee, or chief. Reaching a weight of up to 125 pounds, and occupying rivers from the Ventura River in California to Point Hope, Alaska, the tyee, king, or chinook salmon (Oncohynchus tshawytscha) has always been an icon of northwest culture. Now, Puget Sound chinook salmon are about one-third as abundant as they were in 1908 (Meyers et al., 1998), and they have been listed since 1999 as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (FR 64 14308).

As comanagers, our goal is to protect, restore, and enhance the productivity, abundance, and diversity of salmon and their ecosystems to sustain ceremonial, subsistence, commercial, and recreational fisheries, non-consumptive fish benefits and other cultural and ecological values. Restoring populations of Puget Sound chinook salmon will depend on integrated management of all factors affecting the salmon throughout their life cycle, including freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats, ecological interactions, harvest, and hatchery programs.

The purpose of this plan is to describe the operating procedures for chinook salmon hatcheries in Puget Sound, their role in achieving the comanagers’ resource management goals, and their consistency with the protection given to Puget Sound chinook salmon by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plan describes both Tribal and WDFW hatcheries, because these hatcheries are tightly linked – they often operate in the same watersheds, exchange eggs, and share rearing space to maximize the effectiveness of the programs. The benefits of the programs are also shared, including the perpetuation of critically depressed populations and the harvest of returning adults.

Providing harvest opportunities is an important, legally defined role for hatcheries, for in United States v. Washington the court concluded:

“The hatchery programs have served a mitigating function since their inception in 1895. 506 Supp. at 198. They are designed essentially to replace natural fish lost to non-Indian degradation of the habitat and commercialization of the fishing industry. Id. Under these circumstances, it is only just to consider such replacement fish as subject to allocation. For the tribes to bear the full burden of the decline caused by the non- Indian neighbors without sharing the replacement achieved through the hatcheries, would be an inequity and inconsistent with the Treaty.” United States v. Washington, 759 f.2d 1353m 1360 (9th Cir)(en banc), cert. Denied, 474 U.S. 994 (1985).

The court-ordered Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan provides the framework for coordinating these programs, treaty fishing rights, artificial production objectives, and artificial production levels. Based on this framework, the parties to United States v. Washington, with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), developed this plan jointly as part of the Comprehensive Chinook Salmon Management Plan, which identifies interim goals for harvest and hatcheries.

This plan describes the scientific foundation and general principles for evaluating artificial production programs and for continued hatchery reform. It builds on a biological assessment of tribal hatchery programs submitted to NMFS by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in October, 1999, as required by section 7 of the ESA, and incorporates management alternatives subsequently developed by NMFS and the tribes. It also draws from the recommendations of the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), a panel of independent scientists charged by the U.S. Congress with promoting hatchery reform.

The following general principles guide this plan.

  • Hatchery programs need clearly stated goals, performance objectives, and performance indicators.
  • Hatchery programs need to coordinate with fishery management programs to maximize benefits and minimize biological risks so that they do not compromise overall plans to conserve populations.
  • Priorities for brood stock collection of listed fish depend on the status of the donor population, relative to critical or viable population thresholds. Highest priority for brood stock collection of listed populations below the viable threshold is conservation. Brood stock collection for other priorities depends on meeting the conservation goals and not appreciably slowing recovery to viable levels.
  • Hatchery programs need protocols to manage risks associated with fish health, brood stock collection, spawning, rearing, and release of juveniles; disposition of adults; and catastrophes within the hatchery.
  • Hatchery programs need to assess and manage the ecological and genetic risks to natural populations.
  • Hatchery programs must have adequate facilities and maintenance to rear fish, maintain fish health and diversity, and minimize domestication in fish of naturally spawned brood stock.
  • Hatchery programs should be based on adaptive management, which includes having adequate monitoring and evaluation to determine whether the program is meeting its objectives and a process for making revisions to the program based on evaluating the monitoring data.
  • Hatchery programs must be consistent with the plans and conditions identified by Federal courts with jurisdiction over tribal harvest allocations.
  • Hatchery programs will monitor the “take” of listed salmon occurring in the program and will provide that information as needed.

In addition to the benefits provided by artificial production, the scientific literature indicates that artificial production may pose risks to wild chinook salmon populations. These potential risks include: 1) genetic impacts, which affect the loss of diversity within and among populations and reproductive success in the wild; 2) ecological impacts, such as competition, predation, and disease; and 3) demographic impacts, which directly affect the physical condition, abundance, distribution, and survival of wild fish.

The risks and benefits resulting from each artificial production program for chinook salmon in Puget Sound were evaluated in multiple ways, including the Benefit Risk Assessment Procedure, recommendations of the Hatchery Science Review Group (HSRG), and extensive discussions with NOAA Fisheries staff. This multifaceted review, in conjunction with numerous actions previously initiated by the comanagers, has resulted in significant improvements in chinook salmon programs in Puget Sound, and extensive commitments to monitoring and evaluation. Key elements of the plan are summarized below:

Genetic Impacts. The development and implementation in 1991 of a new stock transfer policy (WDFW 1991) designed to foster local brood stocks resulted in a significant reduction in the transfer of eggs and juveniles between watersheds. In recent years brood stocks established from Green River fish have been also been eliminated or replaced in rivers with extant indigenous stocks.

Further review of the programs during the development of this plan led to additional actions, including:

  1. terminating net pen programs at Fidalgo, Oak Harbor, Roche Harbor, San Juan, Mukilteo, Langley, Ballard, Elliot Bay, Des Moines, Fox Island, Hood Canal Marina, Pleasant Harbor, and Sund Rocks;
  2. terminating the McAllister Creek Hatchery program;
  3. reducing the Samish Fingerling fall chinook program from 5.2 to 4.0 million;
  4. reducing the Kendall Creek spring chinook production from 1.6 to 0.70 million;
  5. reducing the Wallace Yearling summer chinook production from 520,000 to 250,000; and
  6. reducing Hood Canal fingerling/fry production by 830,000.

Ecological Interactions. The Puget Sound Tribes, WDFW, and the HSRG are now conducting numerous studies to evaluate the risks posed by ecological interactions of chinook salmon of hatchery and natural origin. Data collected through the studies will be used to adjust, if necessary, release numbers, release timing, or characteristics of the programs. In the interim period, hatchery programs will apply measures based on the best available science to reduce the risks posed by ecological interactions. These actions include:

  1. terminating the net pen programs discussed above;
  2. terminating the McAllister Creek Yearling program;
  3. reducing the Wallace Yearling summer chinook production from 520,000 to 250,000;
  4. releasing fish at a time, size, and physiologically condition that provides a low likelihood of residualization and promotes rapid migration through the estuary to marine waters. Programs typically release subyearling chinook salmon that are in the 40 to 90 fish per pound (77 to 100mm fork length) during the months of May and June. Fish released at this time and size are fully smolted, are unlikely to residualize, and are expected to move rapidly through estuarine areas;
  5. releasing subyearling fish that are a larger size than natural-origin chinook salmon of the same brood year to reduce the potential for diet overlap with any co-occuring natural origin fish in marine waters.
  6. limiting the total releases of chinook salmon in Puget Sound and reducing or minimizing releases affecting key stocks. The chinook salmon programs proposed in this plan constitute a 37% reduction in production relative to 1990, including a 35% reduction in yearling production;
  7. implementing fish health policies and procedures (PNFHPC 1989; Comanagers 1991; WDFW 1996);
  8. maintaining state-of-the-art fish health monitoring, facility disinfecting, and disease management procedures presently applied in the operation of Puget Sound hatcheries.

Direct Demographic Impacts. The operation of hatchery facilities was analyzed, potential concerns identified, and actions undertaken and/or capital funding requested for facility modification. These actions and funding requests include:

  1. screening all water intakes at Dungeness Hatchery to prevent adverse impacts to listed fish;
  2. exploring removal of the Canyon Creek intake to allow passage of juvenile and adult chinook salmon to available spawning and rearing habitat;
  3. building an expanded incubation and early rearing facility at the Elwha Hatchery; and
  4. exploring capital improvements to the pollution abatement system and the adult trapping/holding ponds at the Wallace River Hatchery to facilitate sorting of natural and hatchery-origin fish.

Research, Monitoring and Evaluation. Significant uncertainty exists in the threats posed by artificial production programs. To address these uncertainties, this plan includes substantial commitments to research, monitoring, and evaluation:

  1. marking all chinook salmon artificial production from Puget Sound, including program specific marks where multiple program(s) may affect a stock;
  2. monitoring chinook salmon escapements to estimate the number of tagged, untagged, and marked fish;
  3. collecting and analyzing genetic data, including natural spawners in the North Fork Stillaguamish River, South Fork Stillaguamish River, Puyallup River, Nisqually River,
  4. conducting a study to determine the relative reproductive success of naturally and hatchery produced chinook salmon in the Green River;
  5. conducting studies on the incidence and effects of competition and predation in fresh and marine waters.

The comanagers are committed to the ongoing transformation of hatcheries from one of the all-H (habitat, hydro, harvest, and hatcheries) risk factors to an integrated, productive, recovery tool. This plan takes a significant step forward, while recognizing the role that hatcheries must play in mitigating for the land and water- use decisions that have resulted in the permanent loss or degradation of salmon producing habitat.