Lower Columbia hatchery operations funded through the Mitchell Act provide nearly half of the salmon and steelhead caught by sport and commercial fishers in the Columbia River basin, according to the results of a recent study.
That hatchery output provides a “substantial” economic boost, particularly to rural communities up and down the Columbia River and along the coast, resources economist Tom Wegge said.
Wegge of TCW Economics briefed fishery officials on the recently completed study Tuesday in Portland. The federal, state and tribal hatchery co-managers were gathered for what is believed to be the first Mitchell Act program annual meeting. NOAA Fisheries Service organized the meeting.
“We intend to do this every year from now on,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Rob Jones, who heads the Northwest Region’s Propagation and Inland Fisheries Branch. NOAA Fisheries, which allocates money appropriated by Congress to fund the Mitchell Act program, organized the two-day session as an opportunity for co-managers to update each other on the status of their individual projects and the program as a whole. The meeting was conducted under the theme: “Helping to support Resilient Fisheries and Sustainable Economies.”
The Mitchell Act was enacted in 1938 to provide for conservation of anadromous (salmon and steelhead) fishery resources of the Columbia River. The program now has three primary components, according to the agency:
-- Operation of 17 fish hatcheries (which is down from a high of 25 hatcheries and major rearing ponds) with the release of as many as 70 million juvenile salmon and steelhead annually in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Rising costs and level funding over the past 15 years has resulted in a number of programs in the lower river being shut down, Jones said. Mitchell Act facilities once produced more than 124 million smolts annually.
-- Construction, operation and maintenance of more than 700 fish screens at irrigation diversions to protect juvenile salmon and steelhead in the three states.
-- Ongoing operations and maintenance of 90 fishways enhancing adult fish passage to nearly 2,000 miles of stream habitat.
NOAA Fisheries retained TCE Economics to conduct an analysis of the economic contribution of salmon and steelhead produced in Mitchell Act-funded hatcheries in the basin. The analysis is similar to that conducted for the “Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Inform Columbia River Basin Hatchery Operations and the Funding of Mitchell Act Hatchery Programs” that was offered for public comment this past autumn.
The EIS when finalized will be used to develop a NMFS policy direction that will 1) guide NMFS’s distribution of Mitchell Act hatchery funds and 2) inform NMFS’s future review of individual Columbia River basin hatchery programs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The draft EIS analyzes and compares the direct, indirect and cumulative effects, including economic impacts, of operating all 178 hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin under a full range of five alternatives. The analysis previewed this week focuses just on the Mitchell Act facilities.
The Mitchell Act hatcheries are largely in the lower river, stringing from Elochoman, Grays River and Big Creek down in the lower estuary to Ringgold on the mid-Columbia. Involved in the program are the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe with Oregon, Washington and the USFWS winning the vast majority of the funding.
The fish produced by the remaining Mitchell Act programs now provide about 46 percent of the salmon and steelhead caught in the Columbia River basin, the study says. That’s a surprising total given that money spent to produce those fish represents only about 10-15 percent of the money spent on artificial propagation in the basin, Jones said. The Mitchell Act hatchery operations cost about $17.3 million per year, according to the new study.
The study estimates that 21 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught along the Oregon and Washington coasts are of Mitchell Act origin.
In the Columbia basin, Mitchell Act smolts account, on average, for 70 percent of the adult salmon and steelhead caught in commercial fisheries (tribal and non-tribal) and 26 percent of the fish caught in recreational fisheries. Along the coast 17 percent of the commercial catch and 27 percent of the sport catch originated in a Mitchell Act Hatchery, according to the study.
For the purposes of the study the commercial catch was estimated to 110,647 Mitchell Act salmon annually in the Columbia River basin with 42, 049 harvested by tribal fishers. More than 90,000 of the fish caught were coho.
The sport fishery in the river yields 47,209 Mitchell Act fish.
To calculate the economic benefits the study estimates a coastal catch of 57,001 Mitchell Act fish by commercial fishers and 37,194 by recreational fishers.
The research indicates that 870 full and part-time jobs are sustained by the program. That amounts to an infusion of $36 million in personal income overall. That includes 705 jobs and $30.1 million in personal income in Columbia River economies and 166 jobs and$6.4 million in personal income along the coasts of Oregon and Washington.
The sport catch of Mitchell Act fish annually generates, on average, $12.3 million in trip-related spending by recreational anglers in the basin and $2.9 million along the coast.
The commercial harvest of adult Mitchell Act fish produced on average $2.3 million in economic (es-vessel) value to harvesters in the Columbia River basin and $2.4 million along the coast.
“From a fisheries aspect, the Mitchell Act is crucial,” Jones said.