Reform process under way: Tribal, state hatchery priorities changed to protect wild salmon

 Shelton-Mason County Journal

Shelton, WA - 8/8/02 - Treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington released 30 million salmon from tribal hatcheries last year, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission announced last week.

Tribal hatcheries produced 11 million chinook, 9 million chum, 8 million coho and a million sockeye fry to enhance the Pacific Northwest fishery. The hatcheries also produced about 800,000 steelhead.

Listed among the releases were 100,000 coho and 233,200 chum from Skokomish tribal hatchery facilities and 1,343,573 coho from the Squaxin Island Tribe's hatcheries. The coho in both programs were produced in cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The figures were down from 2000 due to budget constraints, changes in program priorities, and a response to hatchery reform, according to commission spokesperson Tony Meyer. A number of the salmon were produced in cooperation with the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regional fishery enhancement groups and sport and community groups.

RETURNING ADULT salmon, noted Meyer, will be harvested by both Indian and non-Indian fishers, who said restrictions on fishing times, locations and gear are aimed at the hatchery returns to make incidental harvest of wild stocks less likely.

The listing of two Puget Sound salmon stocks as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has caused tribal and state managers to re-evaluate the role of hatcheries in wild-stock rebuilding efforts.

"For the past three years, treaty tribes have been implementing the hatchery reform process," Meyer said.

"Hatchery reform," he explained, "is a systematic, science-driven effort to address how hatcheries can help recover and conserve naturally spawning salmon populations and support sustainable fisheries."

RECOMMENDATIONS for hatchery review, he added, include:

  Using a regional approach to managing hatchery programs so that they are evaluated within the context of their own regions and watersheds and operating hatcheries in the context of their own ecosystems.

  Measuring hatchery success in terms of contribution to harvest and conservation goals, not the number of fish produced, and emphasizing quality, not quantity.

  Making hatchery design and operation flexible to facilitate quick response to changes in goals, ocean and freshwater habitat conditions, stock status and other factors, and evaluating them regularly.

NINETEEN tribal hatchery-reform projects were funded this year, varying from a radio-tagging program for coho smolt to water-quality upgrades in hatcheries and facilities. Each tribal and state hatchery has completed a genetic-management plan to guide how hatcheries will be managed to protect wild salmon runs.
Tribes are also identifying and implementing changes to rearing and release strategies for salmon to reduce impact to wild salmon.

"Hatcheries are an essential piece to the puzzle of recovering wild salmon runs," said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a consortium that provides services to 19 member tribes in Western Washington.

"While hatchery production will never be able to replace fish lost to poor habitat, it is necessary," he said. "Hatchery reform will help guide us on the road to salmon recovery.

TWO GOOD SEASONS of hatchery-reared chinook returns to the Columbia and indicators that this year will see decent returns of coho to Puget Sound don't mean much in terms of salmon recovery, Frank noted in a recent statement issued by the commission. He called the increased salmon-run statistics a spike in a trend that's still generally downward.

Frank says the larger returns may, in fact, lull people into thinking the better returns mean salmon-recovery efforts are paying off or, worse, that salmon-habitat protection measures aren't needed.

The two years, he says, are mostly the result of favorable ocean conditions. Lost and degraded salmon habitat will offset any increases engendered by the higher returns, he predicted in a recent press release from the fisheries commission.

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