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Salmon Conference Discusses NW Hatchery Strategies:
What Does Success Look Like?

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 26, 2012

Tribal and federal leaders challenged participants at the Future of Our Salmon Conference to work together and develop a Northwest hatchery strategy for Columbia Basin salmon populations that both provides fish for Indian and non-Indian fisheries and restores depleted stocks.

The call to action by Kathryn "Kat" Brigham, chairwoman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, was witnessed by over 230 tribal leaders, federal fisheries managers, state fisheries managers, scientists, commercial and recreational fishers and members of the public who attended the Future of Our Salmon conference on Oct. 17-18 in Portland. The conference was hosted by CRITFC and its member tribes - the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes

The conference allowed for candid discussion among the participants on hatcheries and placed hatcheries and hatchery management at the forefront of Columbia Basin salmon management.

"If the region is fighting over salmon issues then we all need to take responsibility for being part of the problem," said Brigham, who also serves as the secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and is the chair of the tribes' Fish & Wildlife Committee.

"If we can be part of the problem then we can be part of the solution," Brigham said. "We need to work together to successfully rebuild salmon runs so the region can realize healthy salmon returns. Rebuilding salmon is a responsibility we all have. We all have to have a stake in the solution."

Executives from the tribes, states, and federal government presented their definitions of success for hatchery programs in the Columbia Basin on the first day of the conference.

They followed that discussion with an interactive panel on the second day that discussed next steps for the region. During that panel, co-managers agreed that hatcheries have a role in salmon management and that those programs need to be tailored to the watershed and the needs of a specific population.

"With all of the work that has been done in this region on salmon issues we still don't have a common definition about what success looks like. However, we all agreed that hatcheries can play an important role in recovery and increasing the abundance of naturally spawning fish for everyone's benefit," said Paul Lumley, CRITFC executive director.

The participation by diverse interest groups and governmental representatives allowed for meaningful dialogue on the role of hatcheries in rebuilding and sustaining the region's salmon populations, according to organizers.

Conference participants discussed the role of hatcheries as payment for the promises that remain unfulfilled through the construction of the Columbia-Snake river hydro-electric system and how hatchery operations have evolved and changed over time. Almost all of the basin's hatchery production is intended to mitigate for human-caused losses in fish production.

Speakers from throughout the Columbia River basin discussed the immense social, economic and cultural impacts from hatcheries and the collaborative approaches needed to rebuild salmon populations.

Conference attendees were given an in-depth look into multiple programs that are currently using hatcheries in various capacities to rebuild salmon populations throughout the region. Case studies from Idaho, Canada and Oregon and Washington looked at spring chinook in the Imnaha, sockeye efforts in the Okanagan, coho reintroduction efforts in the mid-Columbia, and the Snake River fall chinook program.

"We have bet on the idea that the new and different kind of hatchery, using tribal knowledge about wild fish behavior, can lead to increases in both the total run and the wild run of salmon," said Steve Wright, regional administrator for the Bonneville Power Administration told the participants during his keynote address.

BPA markets power generated in the basin's federal hydro system and funds with ratepayer revenues fish and wildlife projects, including hatchery construction and operations and maintenance, intended to mitigate for negative impacts caused by the hydro system.

The construction of the hydro system to provide power, navigation and irrigation for the region "came at a cost to Native Americans," Wright said, given the significance of salmon to the tribes. Providing mitigation for fish and wildlife had become one of the three key elements of BPA's mission statement, added to providing affordable transmission services and power.

"We understand that this is controversial but we believe we can prove that supplementation done right can be effective in recovering salmon," Wright said. Supplementation involves the outplanting in rivers and streams young fish produced in hatcheries in hope they return as adults to spawn in the wild and ultimately help rebuild the abundance of natural spawners. Tribes operate the majority of the supplementation programs in the Columbia basin.

That controversy involves the question about whether hatchery production for such conservation purposes and/or strictly to fuel harvests, does more good than harm wild, naturally produced stocks. An overriding concern is that domesticated hatchery fish in many cases may have lost some of the attributes needed to successfully reproduce in the wild, and that they compete with wild fish for resources needed to survive.

A total of 13 Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, with the wild portions of those runs receiving the most stringent protections.

The Nez Perce Tribe's Becky Johnson and other presenters during the conference stressed that "information on what's working and what's not" has just started to become available after years of research. The use of supplementation can work, or not work, depending how and where it's implemented.

Overall, the tribal approach is to use the hatchery tool to both produce fish for harvest and to rebuild wild stocks while minimizing the risks to wild salmon, according to the Umatilla Tribes' Gary James.

And the tribes stress that hatcheries are only one of the tools that need to be employed to restore and recover sustainable, wild populations. An "All-H" effort -- habitat restoration and protection, harvest management, hydro-system improvements and state-of-the-science hatchery operations -- is needed in a gravel-to-gravel restoration strategy.

"I don't believe hatcheries are a silver bullet for recovery," said Guy Norman, regional director for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Hatcheries are one component of an overall approach. I think we need to move forward to a future where we have harvest while rebuilding the natural abundance of salmon."

NOAA Fisheries' Rob Jones noted that a survey conducted during a conference-related committee meeting involving federal, state and tribal officials showed that there "was a consensus that hatcheries can play a role" in recovering listed stocks. NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency charged with protecting listed stocks and assuring that the survival of such stocks are not jeopardized. It also passes judgment on whether hatchery programs pose a threat, and in many cases decides how federal hatchery funding is distributed.

The group also agreed a general reformation of hatchery practices must continue, to make them more ESA friendly.

The pre-conference committee agreed "that hatcheries were in some cases limiting" the revival of listed salmon, Jones said. "But hatcheries are low on the list of things that are keeping our salmon and steelhead from recovery."

The conference was sponsored by BPA, Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction, Columbia River Gorge Commission, Hobbs Strauss Dean & Walker, Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Power and Conservation Council, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

A post-conference report can be found at in the coming weeks. Available information will include survey results, conference presentations, posters, and final products from the graphic facilitator.

Portland-based CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of four Columbia River basin's four treaty tribes: the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama Nation and Nez Perce.

Salmon Conference Discusses NW Hatchery Strategies: What Does Success Look Like?
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 26, 2012

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