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Group Blesses Area of Hatchery Site

by Nathan Alford
Lewiston Tribune, June 23, 2000

150 gather at the place of Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery

The promise of 18 uncertain years finally materialized for the Nez Perce Tribe Wednesday on the banks of the Clearwater River at Cherrylane.

More than 150 people joined the tribe under the noonday sun to bless the land and water at the site of the future Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery.

Drum beats and native song filled the air as people gathered under the shade tents in preparation for the blessings of Nez Perce tribal elder and spiritual leader Horace Axtell and the first shovel turn of earth.

"Our primary purpose in this effort is to help restore naturally spawning salmon runs in the Clearwater Basin," said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

This is an important project to the Nez Perce people -- culturally, historically and as a food source -- as well as to the entire area, he said. "It provides an important opportunity for chinook fishing once they get to harvestable levels."

However, a comprehensive strategy involving other recovery measures will be required to bring back runs to harvestable levels, said Penney.

"The ability to supplement wild fish is an idea we've all cherished," said guest speaker Todd Maddock, Idaho representative for the Northwest Power Planning Council. "We should all be able to share in the results."

Unlike other hatcheries in the Clearwater Basin, this state-of-the-art chinook salmon rearing hatchery is designed to produce juvenile salmon with wild characteristics.

Traditional hatcheries have come under fire as one of the culprits in the decline of salmon and steelhead runs. Some biologists say hatchery fish are dull-witted and reduce the genetic fitness of wild fish, which breed with the hatchery fish.

At the Nez Perce hatchery, plans call for fish to be raised in ponds that more naturally match wild habitat with a current, woody debris and perhaps even predator training.

The concept is called supplementation -- to produce fish that will return and spawn in the wild rather than rely on the hatchery to produce each successive generation of fish.

After much scientific scrutiny, controversy and compromise, final approval for the project was granted by the Northwest Power Planning Council last May. The $16 million dollar salmon hatchery is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and ultimately the ratepayers of the Northwest.

"It was a long uphill battle," said Si Whitman, fisheries manager for the Nez Perce Tribal Department of Fisheries. With efforts dating back to 1982, Whitman said, the key is to stay the course and not stop until the science tells you to stop. "We've done that here."

Construction of the central hatchery at Cherrylane will begin in July on the north side of the Clearwater River on tribal land and is expected to be completed in three years. The hatchery will be visible from U.S. Highway 12.

Once completed, the facility will provide approximately one million additional fall chinook, 400,000 early fall chinook and 625,000 spring chinook for release in the Clearwater Basin.

In addition to the central hatchery, five satellite facilities will be constructed on various tributaries where hatchery fish will acclimate to wild conditions and be released into the streams.

Nathan Alford
Group Blesses Area of Hatchery Site
Lewiston Tribune, June 23, 2000

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