NOAA Fisheries today (Friday) released a draft environmental impact statement that will help the agency guide federal hatchery operations in the Columbia River basin and determine how best to distribute federal Mitchell Act funds.
The Mitchell Act, dating from 1938, provides federal dollars for conservation of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead. Funding has been used to support research, improve fish passage, install screens on water diversions and build and operate more than 20 salmon and steelhead hatchery facilities.
Over the past 10 years Congress has appropriated from $10 million to $16 million annually for hatchery operations. Appropriations are now distributed by NOAA Fisheries to the operators of 62 hatchery programs that produce 71 million juvenile fish annually, according to the DEIS executive summary.
The "Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Inform Columbia River Basin Hatchery Operations and the Funding of Mitchell Act Hatchery Programs" analyzes and compares the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of operating all 178 Columbia-Snake basin hatchery programs -- non-Mitchell Act funded as well as Mitchell Act -- in the Columbia River basin under five alternative scenarios.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a DEIS that will be used to develop a policy direction that will 1) guide the agency's distribution of Mitchell Act hatchery funds and 2) inform its future review of individual Columbia River basin hatchery programs for compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
A policy direction is the overarching theme that will guide and shape decisions NMFS makes related to hatchery production in the Columbia River basin. It is defined by a series of goals and/or principles, the agency says.
While the final EIS will not make specific determinations on how individual hatchery programs should be operated, it will provide a comprehensive foundation for NOAA Fisheries decision-making under the Endangered Species and Mitchell acts.
The draft EIS and other information is on the Web at:
The draft EIS compares the effects of the alternatives on natural-origin fish populations, hatchery production levels, harvest, socioeconomics, environmental justice, wildlife, water quality and quantity, and human health.
The NOAA Fisheries document stresses that there is no preferred alternative in the draft EIS. A preferred alternative will be developed and published in the final EIS by NMFS after considering comments received during the 90-day public comment period on the draft.
The agency anticipates that the preferred alternative will be a blend of more than one of the alternatives evaluated in the draft EIS.
"The alternatives are designed to reduce or minimize adverse effects of hatchery operations on natural-origin salmon and steelhead populations, while hatchery operators continue to pursue not only the conservation or harvest goals that currently apply to each hatchery program, but also different or additional conservation and harvest goals as identified within the alternatives," according to the summary. "NMFS anticipates that the alternative it pursues after completion of this EIS will be applicable for 10 years."
Defining a "proposed" federal action -- the development of the policy -- prompted the need for EIS under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act. The need for a policy is driven by "the combination of funding pressures under the Mitchell Act, the 13 ESA listings for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin, and the value of a comprehensive review of hatchery programs to inform decision makers…."
"The review of hatchery programs is comprehensive in the sense that information on the effects of all Columbia River basin hatchery programs throughout the basin and across a full range of alternatives is exposed in the EIS," the summary says. NOAA Fisheries is amidst ESA evaluations – the development of biological opinions – of basin hatcheries to judge whether they jeopardize the survival of listed fish.
"Each alternative identifies a different policy direction that would be used to guide NMFS decisions on Columbia River basin hatchery production."
The alternatives range from a baseline or current condition that continues largely status quo to an elimination of Mitchell Act hatchery funding and production with non-Mitchell programs steered toward "intermediate performance goals" regarding hatchery influence on the spawning grounds and the influence of wild fish in hatcheries.
Two of the other alternatives – one focused above and the other below Bonneville -- would aim for "stronger performance goals" -- a further winnowing of hatchery strays from the spawning grounds and strengthening of wild, native influence in hatcheries. Both envision new conservation and harvest hatchery initiatives.
"These stronger performance goals would reduce negative impacts of hatchery programs on natural-origin salmon and steelhead populations even more than the intermediate performance goal," according to the executive summary.
Another of the alternatives aimed at intermediate performance goal would be applied to all Columbia River basin hatchery programs that affect primary and contributing salmon and steelhead populations. Application of the intermediate performance goal would, in most cases, reduce negative effects of hatchery programs on natural-origin salmon and steelhead populations, the executive summary says.
Overall production levels under that alternative -- No. 3 -- would be reduced and "conservation hatchery programs would be operated at a level determined by conservation need, with hatchery-origin production diminishing as natural-origin production increases."
The draft EIS includes a summary of "resource effects" that include fish production and returns under the various scenarios as well as production costs and harvest levels and economic values derived from fishing
The deadline for submitting written comments on the DEIS is Nov. 4. Comments must include the following document identifier in the comment subject line: Mitchell Act EIS.
Comments should be sent to:
William W. Stelle, Jr.
NMFS Northwest Region
7600 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Comments also can be submitted electronically to MitchellActEIS.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The draft EIS is accessible electronically through the Northwest Region website at www.nwr.noaa.gov.
Questions should be directed to Allyson Purcell at 503-736-4736 or Allyson.Purcell@noaa.gov.
Three public meetings are scheduled during comment period:
Clark Regional Wastewater District
8000 NE 52nd Court
Vancouver, WA 98662
Kennewick Public Library
1620 S. Union St.
Kennewick, WA 99338
Columbia River Maritime Museum
1792 Marine Dr.
Astoria, OR 97103