Hatcheries serve two purposes in recovery. First, hatcheries are used selectively around the state to augment natural salmon runs. This critical work is necessary to rebuild salmon runs that have been reduced to just a handful of fish in some rivers because of a loss of habitat.
Second, hatcheries boost the number of fish statewide, reducing the impact of fishing on wild salmon. More than 80 percent of the salmon caught are born in hatcheries. Until habitat conditions improve, hatcheries are needed to meet tribal fishing and treaty obligations, support local and regional businesses reliant on fishing and outdoor recreation, and provide critical food for orcas, other wildlife, and humans.
Hatchery programs may hinder salmon recovery if they are not monitored, evaluated, and adaptively managed to limit risks to wild populations. Hatchery-raised fish can interbreed with wild salmon and weaken the fitness of wild stocks and they also can compete with wild salmon for food and other resources. These factors contributed to salmon declines in the past, but wide recognition of these impacts has improved management of hatcheries statewide. Continued efforts to monitor, evaluate, and adaptively manage hatchery programs will ensure hatcheries can achieve their intended benefits without impeding recovery of wild salmon.
The success of hatcheries in boosting the number of fish and augmenting natural salmon runs relies heavily on healthy and robust habitat for both wild and hatchery salmon.
Along with efforts to monitor hatcheries, an equal amount of effort must be invested in protecting and restoring habitat. Agencies and Indian tribes have operational plans, such as the Hatchery Genetic Management Plans, to ensure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and broader recovery efforts. For example, 55 percent of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries have Hatchery Genetic Management Plans approved by the federal government. Many non-state hatcheries also have genetic management plans. These plans do not achieve recovery, but act to limit the potential impacts from hatcheries.
The State and treaty Indian tribes work together to co-manage hatcheries so they align with the goals and objectives in the federally approved recovery plans that are the foundation for Washington’s recovery efforts.
Photograph of the Chief Joseph Dam hatchery courtesy of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.