Dworshak May Be Tapped
by Eric Barker
The Lower Snake Compensation Plan has never met its goal of returning 58,000 chinook above
Lower Granite Dam and providing four times that amount for harvest in the ocean and Columbia River.
A neighbor's bad luck led to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery raising 2.5 million extra spring chinook last year.
Because of a stroke of good fortune that followed another neighbor's hardship, about 1 million extra chinook are being raised at the hatchery this year.
Those two events and the hatchery's response to them have some fisheries managers and anglers asking if it might be possible for Dworshak to routinely boost its spring chinook production. Doing so might help the federal government meet its goal of returning some 58,700 chinook adults above Lower Granite Dam annually and 21,000 to the Clearwater River and its tributaries.
"We are a long way from meeting those mitigation goals," said Becky Johnson, production manager for the Nez Perce Tribe's fisheries program.
"It seems like something we could do, and hopefully we can work toward a solution that works for everybody," said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Last year a pipe that delivers water from Dworshak Dam to the Clearwater Hatchery broke loose and threatened to wipe out 2.5 million juvenile chinook there. The fish were quickly moved from the state of Idaho-managed Clearwater Hatchery to Dworshak Hatchery. The two hatcheries sit on opposite sides of the North Fork Clearwater River.
Crews at Dworshak were able to find the space and successfully raised the fish that were released this spring.
"We found out a lot by that emergency," Johnson said. "We want to explore that more and get an agreement with the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the tribe about what we could be doing if we wanted to increase production."
At one point last summer, it looked as though Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins might fall short of its adult return goal. So hatchery managers there asked
Dworshak officials to help them out by collecting more adults than they normally need for spawning. They did, but adult returns to Rapid River surged after the request was made and the extra fish weren't needed.
Dworshak found itself with an extra million fertilized spring chinook eggs. Those fish are being raised and will be released next spring.
Steve Yundt, director of the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan, said the two events prove Dworshak has the capacity to raise more spring chinook.
But making that happen on a regular basis is tricky and will require several agencies to work through the hatchery's complicated collection of authorities.
Dworshak Hatchery was built by the corps to produce steelhead and make up for the run that was wiped out by the construction of Dworshak Dam. Later, chinook rearing facilities were added to the hatchery. The corps funds the steelhead program there, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via its Lower Snake River Compensation Plan, pays for the chinook program. The tribe raises some coho salmon there and has a program to recondition spawned steelhead known as kelts.
The hatchery is operated by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nez Perce Tribe. Any changes that are made must first be approved by each of the agencies involved.
Currently the corps is leery of adding additional chinook without first determining how the extra workload will be paid for and figuring out how it might affect steelhead production. The corps also requires real estate agreements to be in place before parts of the hatchery that was constructed and authorized for steelhead can be used for other fish.
"One of the things we are trying to do is to establish those relationships," said Greg Parker, operations manager for Dworshak Dam and Reservoir. "That program started with just steelhead. Chinook were added in the early 1980s and coho in the 90s and kelt in the mid-2000s. We are trying to legitimize those programs and move from there, but we really don't know in the future what it holds."
Anglers tend not to care about those kinds of issues and just want to see reliable fishing opportunities.
"We paid for the hatchery facilities and fund them. How come we don't use them? I don't understand that," said Randy Krall, a fisherman and owner of Camp Cabin and Home, a Lewiston tackle shop. "Intergovernmental bureaucracy can be pretty inefficient. I think we need to do anything we can to allow the (fishing) opportunities."
Johnson said any additional chinook production should be paid for by the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan, but she also points out the program exists to compensate for the Snake River dams, which were built by the corps. She describes the federal government's mitigation responsibility as a debt.
"They knew they were going to impact the salmon returns; their estimate was by half," she said. "The hatcheries were put in for payment on the debt. If you are not making payments, you need to fix it."
The Lower Snake Compensation Plan has never met its goal of returning 58,000 chinook above Lower Granite Dam and providing four times that amount for harvest in the ocean and Columbia River.
Yundt would also like to see production increased at Dworshak. But he said there are other issues beyond funding that must be worked out. Dworshak has had problems with its wastewater and meeting Clean Water Act standards. More fish produce more fish waste.
Hatchery fish can also compete with wild fish. Wild chinook in the Clearwater River are not protected by the Endangered Species Act, but other wild Snake River chinook are. Yundt said any additional production plans have to consider possible impacts to listed fish in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Johnson said competition isn't a limiting factor and increasing production will increase the number of juvenile fish that survive their downriver journey through the dams.
"When we release fish up here we are hopeful to get half of them down to Bonneville, and it's not because of competition from other fish. It's because they get killed in the hydro system and they get eaten by birds and they get eaten by other stuff."
Steve Rogers, acting complex manager at Dworshak, said he also wants to see chinook production increase. But he said people should realize the staff there went above and beyond their normal duties to raise the extra fish due to the emergency at Clearwater Hatchery.
"There was a lot of extra work and effort on the ground here to get that done to help solve that emergency issue," he said. "I don't think that would be sustainable without some more resources."
Yundt said all the agencies are working to raise the extra million chinook at the hatchery.
"If that effort is successful, increasing spring chinook production at (the hatchery) longer term into the future can be explored."
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