Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) releases over 9.4 million trout and 145 million salmon and steelhead each year, which provide 13.4 million angler days of recreation annually (2012). It is estimated that WDFW benefits Washington's economy each year generating $3.8 billion for commercial fishing1 and $1.1 billion for sport fishing.2 WDFW fish hatcheries provide sizeable economic benefits not just to anglers, but to all constituents, directly contributing to 28,000 jobs statewide. The benefit of the state's hatchery system to the economy varies by region and is influenced by the species and number of fish produced.
WDFW operates 83 hatcheries, in direct support of these economic activities, producing fish that benefit commercial and recreational fisheries, and to fulfill obligations to maintain tribal usual and accustomed fishing rights. Operation of these hatcheries also contributes to fish recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act. Fish hatchery activities include the entire fish production cycle, raising fish from eggs until release age and then collecting more eggs upon their return. Before release, hatchery fish are marked so they can be readily identified as "hatchery" fish.
In the 2012 Supplemental Operating Budget (3ESHB 2127), the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) was directed by the Legislature to identify the availability of alternative approaches to trout production and to compare WDFW production costs with the costs of the alternatives. The Department currently uses five alternatives for trout production including:
- Leasing state owned hatchery facilities to a private company;
- Purchasing trout from a contracted private company;
- Co-op agreements with county public utility districts, nonprofit groups, and an institute of higher education;
- Tribal and/or Federal partnerships; and
- No cost cooperative agreements with other states
On February 20, 2013, JLARC published their report entitled, "Trout Production: Estimates Suggest Price Competitive Options are Available." The report summarized JLARC's audit findings, comparing the trout production costs of WDFW to those of a private company. The results, based on a case study conducted for trout production at WDFW's Spokane Hatchery, showed that the estimated cost for supplying catchable-sized (11" to 13") trout was similar between WDFW and the private company. In order to see if these price comparisons could be applied more broadly, JLARC recommended that WDFW develop a plan to identify the production costs for all species and sizes at each of WDFWâ€™s hatcheries.