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Hatchery Demands Get Tribal Support

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, September 16, 2000

Pressure by two Washington Republicans to reform federal hatchery policies created a strange alliance Friday when Indian officials threw their weight behind the politicians' demands.

Sen. Slade Gorton and Rep. Doc Hastings asked the General Accounting Office on Tuesday to investigate the National Marine Fisheries Service for "confusing, contradictory" practices such as killing fish that return to hatcheries. They want the GAO to determine if the destruction of hatchery fish is consistent with congressional direction that hatcheries provide fish for harvest.

"This agency has lost its way," said Randy Settler, Yakama Nation councilman. "The GAO could provide independent investigation and analysis that has been ducked by NMFS for long enough."

If NMFS makes the desired reforms, the Ringold Hatchery on the Columbia River north of the Tri-Cities may be the place where the now-doomed eggs are raised. And Gorton has promised to secure $184,000 so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can properly mark the hatchery fish by clipping their fins.

"It's a case where I think we see the senator and Rep. Hastings responding to the outrage of tribal and nontribal citizens in their state," said Chuck Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "We are seeing public and tribal resources squandered for purposes known only to NMFS themselves."

At issue are about 1.5 million spring salmon eggs at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery in the Methow Valley. Gorton said NMFS ordered those eggs destroyed because of its policy that some hatchery fish are harmful to wild runs.

"Such an action is perverse in light of NMFS' efforts to restrict tribal and sportsfishing, restrict water flows for irrigation and recreation and impose stringent land use regulations for habitat," Gorton said in a Sept. 5 letter to the NMFS regional director.

Northwest tribes and many residents are angered by NMFS' distinction between hatchery and wild fish. In a July protest, they waded into the Methow River and constructed a weir to block returning adult salmon from entering the Winthrop hatchery where policies mandated their extermination. The weir diverted the fish back to the stream where they could spawn naturally.

"NMFS is not getting buy-in on the 'a fish is not a fish' message they are putting out," Hudson said. "There is a fundamental lesson they need to learn: That you need fish to make more fish."

NMFS says chinook salmon recovery in the powder keg North-central Washington basin relies on six hatchery stocks. But it directs that other hatchery stocks be phased out because they are not native to the area.

The tribal fish commission contends the eggs NMFS is preparing to kill are genetically the same as the ones they let spawn naturally. The Methow River was blocked by a dam in the early 1900s, and its wild runs disappeared.

Last year, 180,000 salmon were killed and their eggs destroyed when they returned to Washington hatcheries.

"This policy severely undermines the region's ability to recovery endangered salmon, and it is contrary to NMFS' own goal of seeking the return of naturally spawning species," Hastings and Gorton said.

Mike Lee
Hatchery Demands Get Tribal Support
Tri-City Herald, September 16, 2000

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