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Nov. 28, 2022

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Work under way on Endangered Species Act hatchery plans

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter

The National Marine Fisheries Service says it has completed work on plans for 26 Columbia River hatcheries and is actively working on Endangered Species Act review of 32 more, including 16 on lower Columbia tributaries in Washington.

The numbers from the federal fishery agency were provided in response to a 60-day notice of intent to sue announced Jan. 13 by the Wild Fish Conservancy, which claims the government is funding Columbia River hatcheries prior to meeting mandated review of plans under the Endangered Species Act.

The conservancy is based in Duvall, Wash.

Rob Jones, regional chief of NMFS’ Hatchery Production and Inland Fisheries Branch, said his office is responsible for reviewing more than 300 Hatchery and Genetic Management Plans coastwide.

The agency has completed 50 of the reviews, including 11 for hatcheries that currently receive Mitchell Act funding.

The Mitchell Act was enacted in 1938 to mitigate for salmon and steelhead losses caused by the Columbia River hydroelectric dams.

There are 25 programs in Southwest Washington operated by the Department of Fish and Wildlife with Mitchell Act money. Among them are Washougal, Skamania, Kalama Falls, Fallert Creek and Grays River hatcheries plus net pens in Cathlamet Channel and Deep River.

Jones said 135 plans have been submitted to his agency for review and they currently are working on 31 in Puget Sound, 32 in the Columbia River, 42 on the Oregon coast and a handful in California.

Another 143 plans are in the works by hatchery operators. Jones said he expects those plans will begin arriving at his office soon.

“The path for reforming and approving hatchery plans was set years ago and we’re moving forward,’’ Jones said. “This is not about the threat of any suit.’’

Jim Scott and Kelly Cunningham of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife briefed the Fish and Wildlife Commission on the ramifications of the potential lawsuit recently in Vancouver.

Cunningham told the commission the Department of Fish and Wildlife receives about $4.5 million a year in federal Mitchell Act funding to operate hatcheries, mostly in the lower Columbia area.

Production of 18 million young salmon and steelhead are at risk by the threatened lawsuit, Cunningham said.

Scott said the problem is that NMFS does not have enough staff to process expeditiously the 100-page Hatchery and Genetic Management Plans.

“We likely will see more litigation unless those HGMPs get approved,’’ he said.

Reducing hatchery releases or closing hatcheries could be a disaster for West Coast fisheries, Scott said.

Salmon and steelhead produced with Mitchell Act funding account for 38 percent of adult fish caught in the Columbia River basin and 24 percent of chinook and coho caught along the Washington and Oregon coasts.

The Mitchell Act supports more than 1,300 jobs and $50 million in economic activity, Cunningham  said.

Other activities to help wild fish, he added, include:

• Designation of wild steelhead gene banks in several lower Columbia tributaries.

• Construction of weirs to minimize interaction between hatchery and wild fish.

• Construction of fish ladders and removal of barriers to provide additional access to habitat.

• Rebuilding of hatchery water supply intakes to comply with current federal standards.

Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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