Hatchery Reform is in Progress, But Takes Time
Hatchery programs in this region support commercial, recreational, and tribal harvest; provide mitigation for hydropower system impacts; and in some cases support recovery efforts. However, they also pose long-term risks to recovery of natural-origin fish populations and are one of several key factors that contributed to Endangered Species Act listings in the region. Using standards developed by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, and adopted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board in their Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan, hatchery reform is underway to support both fishing opportunities and salmon recovery needs.
Today, hatchery programs support chum recovery through release efforts across the region and through the reintroduction of spring Chinook and coho salmon and winter steelhead upstream of dams in the Lewis and Cowlitz River basins. Hatcheries across the region are implementing the program changes recommended by the hatchery review group as well.
However, the proportion of hatchery-origin fish relative to natural-origin fish on the spawning grounds remains greater than the hatchery review group and the sustainable fisheries plan target for many fall Chinook and coho salmon populations, especially in coastal watersheds.
Reform is Underway
Reform strategies to reduce ecological and genetic impacts of hatchery-origin fish on natural-origin spawners are underway, including the following:
- The operation of weirs to separate hatchery- from natural-origin spawners
- Changes in hatchery production methods, locations, and program size
- Continued marking of hatchery fish to support mark selective fisheries.
Almost 300 individual reform strategies have been implemented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife since Endangered Species Act listings occurred in the region. These strategies address all 40 recovery actions assigned to the department in the regional salmon recovery plan.
It can take multiple generations of salmon to respond to hatchery program changes. The majority of hatchery reform strategies implemented by the department have ongoing monitoring timelines, so patience is key in assessing impacts to recovering salmon and steelhead in the region. Sustained efforts and reliance on the use of the best available science are critical to ensuring hatchery production programs support salmon recovery.
Step 1: Implement hatchery practice change
One common hatchery program change is to reduce the number of hatchery fish produced.
Step 2: Monitor hatchery-origin fish response to the change
3 to 5 years of monitoring depending on the life span of the targeted species
Step 3: Monitor first natural-origin fish generation response to change in hatchery fish
Generation 1: 3 to 5 years of monitoring depending on the life span of the targeted species
Step 4: Monitor second natural-origin fish generation response to change in hatchery fish
Generation 2: another 3 to 5 years of monitoring depending on the life span of the targeted species
Step 5: Monitor third natural-origin fish generation response to change in hatchery fish
Generation 3: another 3 to 5 years of monitoring depending on the life span of the targeted species
Step 6: Was the goal for natural-origin fish response achieved?
Generation 3: did the proportion number of hatchery fish on spawning grounds decrease?
Step 7: If the natural-origin fish response was not achieved, try a new approach! If the goal was achieved, continue implementing reform strategy!
When a reform strategy changes, monitoring of hatchery and natural-origin fish responses starts over.