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NOAA Releases Proposed Changes To Columbia Basin Mitchell Act Hatchery Programs
Posted on Friday, December 16, 2016 (PST)

NOAA Fisheries this week described a proposed slate of changes at hatcheries that it says will reduce the impact of Mitchell Act hatchery fish on wild fish in the Columbia River basin.

 

Those changes, among other things, are designed to reduce the number of hatchery fish that stray and spawn in the wild, thus protecting naturally spawning fish.

 

“We’re interested in the competition between hatchery and wild fish,” said Rob Jones, head of hatcheries at NOAA’s West Coast Region. “In addition, to hatchery effectiveness, we’re looking at hatchery release levels to reduce straying in the Columbia River basin.”

 

The agency proposes to do this by reducing the overall number of tule chinook juveniles produced at both Mitchell Act and non-Mitchell Act hatcheries by about 4 million fish – about 12 percent – and actually increasing the overall number of coho salmon juveniles by over 1 million fish – 6.8 percent.

 

No production changes are proposed for steelhead.

 

The federal agency is racing to meet a federal court deadline to complete hatchery biological opinions and incidental take statements. Without the BiOps and incidental take statements, NOAA is prohibited by a court stipulation with the Wild Fish Conservancy to make payments to operators of 10 Mitchell Act hatcheries.

 

The August court stipulation that has put a stop to Mitchell Act payments was reached August 2 in Oregon U.S. District Court in the Wild Fish Conservancy vs National Marine Fisheries Service court case that began March 31, 2016.

 

The original March 31 filing can be found at: http://wildfishconservancy.org/copy_of_news/in-the-news/001.0.complaintMitchellActColumbia33116.pdf

 

In the court case, the conservancy contends Mitchell Act funds were intended to support hatchery operations that help rather than harm wild fish populations.

 

In its court filing, the Conservancy said:

 

“High proportions of hatchery fish straying onto spawning grounds pose severe genetic risks to the productivity of wild fish. The best available science confirms that stray rates—measured as the proportion of hatchery-origin spawners within a naturally spawning population, or pHOS”—in excess of 5 percent or 10 percent seriously harm the fitness of wild fish, making hatcheries a primary limiting factor to recovery. Hatchery fish suppress the productivity of wild populations, prey on wild fish, compete with them for resources, and introduce disease and pathogens.”

 

The proposed hatchery changes outlined Thursday by NOAA in a webinar for stakeholders by Jones, Jeromy Jording, James Dixon and Larrie Lavoy, all of NOAA, are modifications that will be evaluated and included in the BiOp when it is released January 15.

 

In addition, NOAA is proposing to take steps to ensure broodstock for hatcheries match with major population groups where young fish are released.

 

“Hatchery effectiveness begins with broodstock,” Jones said. “One thing we’re doing is analyzing where broodstock originates and calling for improvements in hatchery broodstock management.”

 

That could mean that some hatcheries will discontinue the use of certain broodstock and others could pick up that broodstock.

 

In addition, hatchery release levels are proposed to reduce straying in the Columbia River basin, Jones said.

 

Lower river (downstream of Bonneville Dam) Mitchell Act hatchery production of tule chinook will decline by 24 percent from 18,128,044 to 13,775,000, but that will occur over the course of five years, Jones said. Non-Mitchell Act hatchery production of the tules will rise by 2 percent for a final reduction of lower river tules of 20 percent.

 

Adding in a 4 percent increase of tule production at the Spring Creek Hatchery, the final decrease in overall lower Columbia River tules is 12 percent.

 

For recreational fishing, that would likely drop Buoy 10 catch of tules by 6 percent, catch from Tongue Point to the Lewis River about 4 percent and from the Lewis River to Bonneville about 1 percent. The further up the river, the smaller the catch impact, Jording said.

 

The tributaries are likely to see the biggest reductions as a result of the tule programs, he added. The changes will also have a modest impact on off-shore treaty and non-treaty fishing.

 

Coho salmon production downstream of Bonneville Dam will see an overall increase, but the formula is complicated. Production at Mitchell Act hatcheries for early coho will drop 15 percent. Coho from non-Mitchell Act hatcheries will rise by 4 percent and, overall, production of early coho will drop 1 percent. Total production of early coho will drop from 6,669,861 to 6,570,128.

 

The majority of the reduction in the lower river coho will be in the Washington tributaries of Kalama, North Fork Toutle and Washougal rivers, Dixon said. There could be an increase at the Big Creek Hatchery in Oregon and the introduction of a new program on the Elochomon River in Washington.

 

Again, that will be phased-in, likely over the same five years that tule production will drop. The increase in coho production will cause a modest increase in landed catch offshore, Lavoy said.

 

Late coho production downstream of Bonneville at Mitchell Act hatcheries will drop 11 percent and in non-Mitchell Act hatcheries there will be a 17 percent gain, for an overall gain of 11 percent.

 

Overall, coho production (early and late) below Bonneville will gain 3 percent.

 

Upstream of Bonneville Dam, early coho production at Mitchell Act hatcheries will not change, but will rise 7 percent at non-Mitchell Act hatcheries, with an overall gain for early coho production of 5 percent.

 

Production of late coho upstream at Mitchell Act hatcheries will rise 20 percent. There is no non-Mitchell Act funded late coho hatchery production upstream of Bonneville.

 

The total change for above Bonneville coho – early and late – is a rise of 12 percent. Overall, both early/late and downstream/upstream, coho production will increase 6.8 percent from 18,476,504 to 19,738,929.

 

There will be no change to the production of winter and summer steelhead, according to Dixon. However, there will be a particular effort to keep hatchery fish out of Washington’s Wild Steelhead Bank rivers – Grays, N.F. Toutle, East Fork of the Lewis and Wind rivers.

 

The Kalama River will see a drop from four hatchery stocks to two, maintaining only broodstock that originated from the river.

 

As for fisheries implications, Dixon said during the webinar, there may be a moderate change in timing of the run, but there will be no change in total production, and no significant change to harvest opportunities.

 

NOAA Fisheries heard some complaints from participants in the webinar that it is moving too fast, but Jones defended the speed at which the agency is moving, saying that it is because of the urgency of the court case. He also said that NOAA would be working on these changes regardless of a court case, but it may have taken more time.

 

Once the BiOp and incidental take are complete, the Wild Fish Conservancy will have 14 days to either file a motion “to supplement and/or amend its complaint or provide the Court and Federal Defendants notice that Plaintiff does not seek to supplement and/or amend the complaint at that time,” the stipulation said.

 

Since 1938, Mitchell Act Hatcheries have been the mainstay of commercial, recreational and treaty-tribal fisheries in the Columbia River Basin.

 

The hatcheries produce roughly 50 percent of the salmon and steelhead released annually into the Columbia River.

 

Fish produced by these hatcheries are intended to partially compensate for fish and habitat losses caused by the construction of dams within the Federal Columbia River Power System.

They also provide a contribution to fulfilling tribal treaties.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, September 9, 2016, “NOAA Fisheries Stipulates No Mitchell Act Funds For 10 Hatcheries Until Hatchery BiOp Completed,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437460.aspx

 

--CBB, August 5, 2016, “Wild Fish Conservancy Seeks Injunction To Block Use Of Mitchell Act Funds For Basin Hatcheries,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437254.aspx

 

-- CBB, April 1, 2016, “Wild Fish Conservancy Files Lawsuit To Force Federal Consultation On Basin Mitchell Act Hatcheries,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436361.aspx

 

-- CBB, January 15, 2016, “Wild Fish Advocates File Notice Against Mitchell Act Hatcheries, 60 Million Smolts Annually,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435862.aspx

 

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