Hatcheries Support Fishing but Affect Wild Fish

Since the first Washington hatchery opened in 1883, managers hoped that hatchery production could compensate for degraded or blocked habitat and overharvest. Hatcheries are an important tool to provide harvest opportunities and to produce salmon to reintroduce to areas where they have gone extinct, but they also can hinder salmon recovery if they are not managed to minimize risks to wild populations. Hatchery-reared fish can compete with wild salmon for food and other resources and weaken the fitness of wild stocks if they interbreed.

Hatchery programs may hinder salmon recovery if they are not monitored, evaluated, and adaptively managed to limit risks to wild populations. Wide recognition of these impacts has improved management of hatcheries statewide.

Most hatcheries in Washington that operate in areas with Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead operate under strict management protocols, known as Hatchery Genetic Management Plans, intended to allow hatcheries to produce young salmon while minimizing impacts to wild salmon. Only the hatchery programs that have impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed fish require plans. The 40 coastal programs do not require plans.

The map shows the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatchery program locations and whether each program has a Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan.

Statewide Data 15

Statewide Data 16

The Washington hatchery network raises more than 200 million juvenile salmon at more than 100 state, federal, and tribal facilities each year. Hatchery fish enable harvest to continue even though the number of wild fish are low. Most steelhead, coho, and Chinook produced in hatcheries are individually marked as juveniles by removing the small adipose fin (located on their backs, just forward of their tails). This allows sport, commercial, and tribal fishers to catch hatchery fish while protecting wild-spawned fish from harvest.

Hatcheries are essential to meet tribal fishing obligations and to provide salmon for commercial and recreational fishing, orcas, and other wildlife. Looking to the future, state, tribal, and federal partners will continue to monitor, evaluate, and adaptively manage hatcheries to limit impacts to wild salmon populations. Hatchery managers will continue efforts to reduce genetic effects on wild populations, while managers work to effectively target hatchery and healthy wild populations. Maintenance, capital improvements, and monitoring remain persistent needs across the hatchery system.