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Mitchell Act Fund Expansion Aimed At Segregating Wild Salmon From Hatchery-Produced
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2011 (PST)

Lower Columbia fish managers’ desire to implement hatchery reforms got a boost this past year with an infusion of a specially earmarked $10 million appropriation to help steer toward the dual goals of conserving wild salmon and steelhead while maintaining harvests of hatchery fish.


Leading the charge was Washington U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who steered the “Mitchell Act 2010 Expansion To Implement Hatchery Reform” through a House appropriations committee in the summer of 2009. The bill language required salmon management activities that “begin implementation of reforms developed by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group to operate these [Mitchell Act] facilities in a manner more conducive to salmon recovery.’’


The aim was to fund projects that help reduce the straying of hatchery fish onto spawning grounds, to develop local hatchery broodstocks and to bring hatcheries into better compliance with environmental requirements.


The congressman noted the review group's contention that recovery of wild salmon and steelhead was not possible without addressing the genetic impacts caused by hatchery fish spawning with wild fish. He said the additional funds that will be available to the Columbia River hatcheries in the next year can provide for physical barriers to segregate wild and hatchery populations, as well as for efforts -- such as clipping the adipose fin -- to distinguish hatchery fish and allow for a selective fishery.


The list of projects chosen for funding is indeed getting projects on the ground “that advance the goals of the HSRG” and the parallel goals of his agency’s Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan, said Patrick Frazier of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The HSRG’s review of all Columbia-Snake River basin salmon hatcheries was completed early in 2009.


The WDFW was the lead agency lobbying for the Mitchell Act budget expansion to fund hatchery reform actions. It also garnered the largest share of the add-on budget, $6.7 million. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife earned $2.5 million in hatchery reform funding, the Yakama Nation $560,480 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service $213,761.


The base Mitchell Act budget for fiscal year 2010 was $11,066,221 to help operate 17 hatcheries on the lower Columbia and operate and maintain fish screens at irrigation outlets as well as fishways to assure passage along nearly 2,000 miles of stream habitat.


The funding helped “jump start” a number of hoped-for projects that had no funding source, Frazier said. Among them was an effort by WDFW to test commercial fishing gear in the lower Columbia that might allow a the harvest of marked hatchery fish and the live release of unmarked, presumably wild, salmon and steelhead. The funding, $1.98 million, allowed the gear testing effort to be advanced more aggressively than it could have otherwise.


“Without that I wouldn’t have been able to put 13 bodies on the water” to test various types of gear, Frazier said. A $450,000 award was granted to further the ODFW effort to develop and implement mark-selective gear for tule fall chinook.


The extra funding also allowed $2.3 million to be steered toward the externally mass marking of hatchery fish at both WDFW and ODFW Mitchell Act Hatcheries.


More than $3 million of the $10 million budget expansion is earmarked for two projects to improve the WDFW’s ability to trap and sort returning salmon and steelhead so that wild steelhead in particular can be transported above the Kalama Falls Hatchery for release back into the upper river. The Kalama River is home to more Endangered Species Act listed species than any watershed in the lower Columbia. That list includes spring and fall chinook, early and late run coho and summer and winter steelhead.


The largest share, $2.5 million, will be spent to design, permit and construct an adult fish handling system at Kalama Falls Hatchery to trap, handle and sort hatchery from wild fish and pass wild fish upriver. The agency is the process of selecting a consultant to design the planned facility.


The existing system is “very labor intensive and not a very good way to handle fish,” Frazier said.


The fish ladder now dead-ends at the hatchery so the fish have to be physically transported about 100 yards to holding ponds where they are sorted.


“It’s pretty archaic how the fish are handled,” the WDFW’s Eric Kinne said. The project aims to extend the ladder to avoid the extra handling.


Another $450,000 is earmarked to modify the existing Modrow trap down near the mouth of the Kalama to enable the sorting and release of wild fish on site.


The WDFW will also have built a weir in Coweeman River, a tributary to the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington, to control the number of hatchery origin fish that might stray on the spawning grounds of protected wild tule chinook.


Among the environmental compliance projects to be funded is the installation of improved screening at the ODFW’s Big Creek Hatchery to bring the facility within NOAA Fisheries standards. The project was allocated $805,000.


The extra Mitchell Act funding will allow the ODFW to provide a $330,000 cost share on a project to implement passage and screening at Sandy Hatchery. The city of Portland will pay the balance, $3.7 million. Completing the project will open more than 15 miles of habitat.

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