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Nez Perce Upset Over Plan for Hatchery

by Anna King, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, June 15, 2004

State officials agreed Monday to release 200,000 young salmon from Lyons Ferry Hatchery in June after the Nez Perce Tribe threatened legal action.

The fall chinook were being fed heavily so they would grow rapidly before their release in early summer. But tribal officials allege the state cut back the feed about three weeks ago in a plan to make the fish grow more slowly and release them next spring instead.

The tribe said holding the fish back until next year would violate a 2003 management agreement that called for the 200,000 fish to be released before they were a year old, and for 450,000 more fish to be released as yearlings next year.

Tribal officials said it's critical to release the younger fish so hatcheries can mimic the natural river systems as closely as possible.

Jeff Koenings, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a letter to the tribe that was released late Monday that holding the young fish back was intended to bolster salmon numbers that will be taxed by reduced summer spill over the dams in late July and August.

Koenings said releasing the fish when they are older would increase their chances of surviving to adulthood.

State officials agreed last week to reduce the amount of water spilled over the dams during the summer months, when fish migration slows, so the water can be used instead to generate power.

The spill program had been intended to help young fish get downstream, but regional power officials have argued it benefits few fish and costs the region millions of dollars in lost power sales.

David Cummings, attorney for the Nez Perce Tribe, said the tribe only had learned of the new plan for the 200,000 fish last week.

Becky Ashe, a fishery coordinator for the Nez Perce, said trying to manage the juvenile salmon in a different way midway through their life cycle would be dangerous. v "Washington state has been starving these fish to slow their growth down," she said. "That's not healthy for the fish."

In his letter to the tribe, Koenings said he had ordered full feeding to resume immediately.

State officials said the exact date in June when the fish will be released still is unclear.

"We want to release the fish when the release conditions are best, but also want the fish on more feed than they are now," said Ross Fuller, fish management division manager for the state agency.

Tribal officials, however, said the fish should be released now, when recent rains and cool weather will help them survive.

"We believe the conditions are optimal right now to release those fish," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Other strategies to reduce the effects of the lost summer spill, like stabilizing water flows in the Hanford Reach, also are under attack by the tribe, who wants the summer spill to continue, Hudson said.

He said the tribe hasn't seen meaningful improvements on the Reach this year and doesn't feel it should be considered a viable replacement for the lost water.

Anna King
Nez Perce Upset Over Plan for Hatchery
Tri-City Herald, June 15, 2004

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