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Study: Yakima Supplementation Hatcheries Shown To Be Effective Tool In Rebuilding Spring Chinook
Posted on Friday, July 31, 2015 (PST)

Hatcheries are an effective tool for rebuilding spring chinook abundance and productivity in the Yakima Basin without impacting wild fish, according to a recent study published in the

North American Journal of Aquaculture.


The study, based on 33 years of planning and research, found that the Cle Elum Supplementation and Research Facility increased fish spawning in the Yakima Basin while unsupplemented populations continued to struggle.


The Cle Elum facility in the Yakima River basin is an integrated spring chinook salmon hatchery program designed to test whether artificial propagation can increase natural production and harvest opportunities while keeping ecological and genetic impacts within acceptable limits.


Only natural-origin (naturally spawned) fish are used for hatchery broodstock.


Spawning, incubation, and early rearing occur at a central facility; presmolts are transferred for final rearing, acclimation, and volitional release at sites adjacent to natural spawning areas, where returning adults can spawn with natural-origin fish.


The first wild broodstock were collected in 1997, and age-4 adults have returned to the Yakima River since 2001.


An unsupplemented population in the adjacent Naches River watershed provides a reference for evaluating environmental influences. The program has been comprehensively monitored from its inception.


The study’s synthesis of findings, many already published, is as follows:


-- supplementation increased the harvest, redd counts, and spatial distribution of spawners;


-- natural-origin returns were maintained;


-- straying to nontarget systems was negligible;


-- natural-origin females had slightly higher breeding success (production of surviving fry) in an artificial spawning channel, while the behavior and breeding success of natural- and hatchery-origin males were similar;


-- hatchery-origin fish showed differences in morphometric and life history traits;


-- high rates of hatchery age-2 (minijack) production were reported, but the observed proportions of out-migrating juvenile and adult (ages 4 and 5) returning males were comparable for hatchery- and natural-origin fish;


-- hatchery smolts did not affect the levels of pathogens in natural smolts;


--  the ecological interactions attributed to the program were within adopted guidelines.


“Continued study is required to assess the long-term impacts on natural production and productivity,” says the study.


“A Synthesis of Findings from an Integrated Hatchery Program after Three Generations of Spawning in the Natural Environment” can be found in the North American Journal of Aquaculture at


“The Cle Elum study results refute commonly held beliefs that hatcheries hinder naturally returning populations and that natural-origin populations will rebuild in highly altered river systems in the absence of hatchery programs,” stated a press release about the study issued by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.


“The research found that salmon redds increased in the Upper Yakima River by 120 percent with supplementation, while the number of redds increased 47 percent in the unsupplemented Naches River. During the same time frame, natural-origin returns in the Upper Yakima River increased 14 percent with supplementation while natural-origin returns in the unsupplemented Naches River decreased by 12 percent. No pathogens or disease interactions between natural-origin and hatchery origin populations were detected and ecological interactions were largely neutral,” noted CRITFC.


 “Our results demonstrate that natural spring chinook populations were maintained or increased in the supplemented Upper Yakima River, while the adjacent unsupplemented population in the Naches River continues a slow but steady decline”, said Dave Fast, Senior Research Scientist for the Yakama Nation Fisheries program and lead author of the publication. “Habitat restoration is occurring in both subbasins and these results indicate that we cannot rely on habitat restoration alone to achieve recovery.  We need both continued supplementation and expansion of habitat restoration actions to keep pace with the ever-increasing threats these fish face for their survival.” 


The Cle Elum Spring Chinook Supplementation and Research Facility was conceived in the 1980s as a harvest mitigation program.  By the 1990s, that goal was broadened to a hatchery supplementation program that would increase harvest opportunities, increase natural spawning on the spawning grounds, and provide research that could address critical issues in hatcheries.


“The resurgence of spring chinook in the Yakima Basin has substantially increased fishing opportunities after a 40-year absence, significantly improved relationships, and increased opportunities for partnerships,” said CRITFC.   


“This innovative project began as a dream of our elders to return fish runs that were damaged. While many criticize tribal supplementation efforts, failure to increase fish populations is not an option.  Our current situation requires us to act for the survival of our fish as well as the survival and well-being of our tribal communities, tribal culture, and our traditional foods,” Sam Jim Sr., chair of the Yakama Tribal Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee, has said of the program.


The American Fisheries Society is offering free access to the paper through August 31, 2015.  The paper can be downloaded via:


The Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of four Columbia River Basin treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

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