Public Meetings Will Outline Lower Columbia River Hatchery Changes

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Public Meetings Will Outline Lower Columbia River Hatchery Changes OLYMPIA – Modifications to salmon and steelhead hatchery operations on the lower Columbia River will be discussed at four public meetings this month in southwest Washington.

The public meetings will begin at 6 p.m. and are scheduled for:

  • Aug. 12 – Cathlamet: River Street Meeting Room, 25 River St., Cathlamet.
  • Aug. 13 – Longview: Cowlitz PUD, 961 12th Ave., Longview.
  • Aug. 20 – Westport: Westport Convention Center, 1600 N. Montesano Ave., Westport, Westport.
  • Aug. 21 – Camas/Washougal: Washougal Community Center, 1701 C. St., Washougal.

During the meetings, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff will outline hatchery production changes designed to help recover endangered and threatened wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River, said Pat Frazier, regional fish manager for the department.

Many of those salmon and steelhead populations are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“These modifications are part of a broad conservation effort to re-tool hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin,” Frazier said. “The goal is to change hatchery operations to support naturally spawning salmon and steelhead populations while continuing to provide sustainable fisheries that benefit communities along the lower river.”

Despite the changes, the department will maintain 95 percent of the current lower Columbia River fall chinook production, as well as 95 percent of hatchery steelhead releases in the lower Columbia River, Frazier said.

The changes include closing the Elochoman Hatchery this fall to create a refuge for wild fall chinook on the Elochoman River, and shifting all steelhead and about half of the fall chinook production to the Beaver Creek facility. The wild fish refuge would be one of several refuges established for five populations of wild fall chinook – also known as “tules” – that spawn in the tributaries of the lower Columbia River.

The refuges are intended to benefit wild salmon and steelhead by minimizing the number of competing hatchery-produced fish on the spawning grounds, while still maintaining sustainable fishing opportunities, Frazier said.

Specifically, the changes would:

  • Shift steelhead production from the Elochoman Hatchery to a hatchery at Beaver Creek – a tributary of the Elochoman – to maintain current steelhead release numbers in the Elochoman River basin. The facility would be used to raise one million fall chinook for subsequent transfer to net pens in Deep River.
  • Reduce coho releases from hatcheries on the lower Columbia River by 15 percent, and establish four Columbia River wild coho refuges and four coho conservation programs.
  • Establish three wild steelhead refuges in the lower Columbia River.

Representatives from WDFW, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Columbia River tribes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries have been meeting the past several months to develop a conservation-based, system-wide approach to Columbia River hatchery production.

“This strategic re-alignment of our hatchery operations and production is part of that broad-based effort to restore naturally spawning salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River to productive levels,” Frazier said. “But other actions, such as restoring habitat, modifying harvest and improving fish passage at dams, also need to take place if we are going to succeed.”

The modifications are consistent with the Lower Columbia River Salmon Recovery Plan and recommendations from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), Frazier said. The HSRG is an independent panel of scientists established by Congress to evaluate salmon and steelhead hatchery operations in Puget Sound and coastal Washington.