'Orcas Don't Have that Much Time.' Hatchery Bill Could Save Themby Editorial Board
Tri-City Herald, February 16, 2020
Alaska manages hatchery fish in such a way that they do not compete with wild stocks.
If state lawmakers truly care about helping our beloved orcas thrive, then they will find a way to support a study that would boost hatchery fish production in Puget Sound.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R- La Center, told the Tri-City Herald that "where there's a will, there's a way," and she has not given up on her bill, which could lead to the launching of a pilot fish hatchery project at the Port of Bellingham.
Called the Salmon Repopulation Act, Senate Bill 6509 and House Bill 2741 both stalled after being introduced in legislative committees. However, Rivers said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig still could bring the proposal to the floor for a vote.
Rivers said "dead" bills in Olympia can be revived if there is a political will to do so. She hopes that will be the case for this proposal because the orcas are running out of time, and she believes this legislation is the best chance they have.
The measure would provide money for a study focused on developing a public-private partnership in new state-approved fish hatcheries. The program would take after a similar model that has been successful for decades in Alaska.
Rivers said the plan ultimately would put more salmon in our waterways.
While critics of the idea say they would rather invest in existing state fish hatcheries, Rivers said that the funding for state hatcheries is not guaranteed year after year, and the beauty of the Alaska model is that it is self-sustaining.
In addition, the Alaska model manages hatchery fish in such a way that they do not compete with wild stocks.
As an example, scientists are careful to release hatchery smolts in areas where there are no native salmon populations. Alaska also tags its hatchery fish, and these are the fish people are encouraged to go after.
The system helps keeps the wild salmon numbers up, providing more food for the whales.
Rep. Luann Van Werven, R-Lynden, is a sponsor of the Salmon Repopulation Act in the House, and said Washington state is in the same position Alaska was in the early 1970s.
On her website, she explains there are 29 hatcheries in Alaska. One is tribal and one is federal. Only two are state run, and the rest use the model Washington state would like to adopt -- and all of them have been very successful.
If Alaska can make this program work, so can Washington state.
The fiscal note attached to the Salmon Repopulation Act estimates the study's cost at $387,000 for fiscal year 2021 and $150,000 in 2021-2023.
Last year, the Legislature approved a controversial $750,000 study focused on breaching the Snake River dams, which divided the state and wasted money.
We were among those who vehemently railed against the effort. Repeated federal studies have shown that breaching the dams would help salmon recovery only slightly, if at all, while significantly harming the Pacific Northwest economy.
Yet, certain groups continue to insist breaching the dams will save salmon and the whales. Activists have even gone so far as to pay for their own studies in an effort to get the results they want to see.
As it happens, Rivers and Van Werven are among a group of Westside lawmakers who believe breaching the Snake River dams is not going to help the whales.
Even if the decision was made to breach the dams, it would take over a decade to see any results.
"We can't wait on this," Rivers said. "Orcas don't have that much time."
The Salmon Repopulation Act is meaningful legislation that actually could make a difference in helping salmon and orca thrive.
Eastern Washington lawmakers and others who oppose breaching the dams should sign on to this innovative plan and help get it through.
Those lawmakers who pushed for the Snake River dam study also should push for the hatchery study. It is worth investigating, and could be the solution everyone is looking for.
It will be a shame if the Legislature misses an opportunity this year to do something meaningful that might actually help the orca.
Rivers is right -- lawmakers can make this effort happen if they want to. Tearing down dams won't save the orca, but additional hatcheries in Puget Sound could give them a fighting chance.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs