Loss of federal funding, rising costs led to hatchery cutbacks

Citing federal funding cuts and higher operating costs, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has said it will cut salmon and steelhead production at three lower Columbia River fish hatcheries.

A funding shortfall of about $500,000 in federal Mitchell Act funds has led to the reduction of fish production at the department’s North Toutle, Kalama Falls and Skamania hatcheries. Those cuts will result in 600,000 fewer coho released annually into the Kalama River and Deep River net pens, and 24,000 fewer steelhead released each year into lower Columbia River tributaries beginning in 2015.

Because of this year’s funding reductions, the department will release 7 percent fewer coho from its lower Columbia River hatcheries, and nearly 2 percent fewer summer steelhead.

Earlier this month, the department released about 600,000 hatchery coho salmon into Riffe Lake in Lewis County as the first step in bringing hatchery costs into line with reduced funding, according to a department news release. Those fish were scheduled to be released next year into the Kalama River and Deep River net pens.

Jim Scott, head of the agency’s fish program, said the cutbacks are necessary because of the loss of federal funding, while operating costs have increased to produce, feed and rear fish at the hatcheries.

“Hatchery salmon production on the lower Columbia River has been declining for the last decade because of insufficient federal funding for these programs,” Scott said in the news release. “These recent changes are another blow to recreational anglers and commercial fishers that rely on hatchery coho in the ocean and lower river, as well as the communities that depend on the economic boost those industries provide.”

While working closely with the state’s congressional delegation to help ensure adequate funding for these facilities, Scott said without an increase in federal dollars there will likely be a reduction in salmon production once again next year.

Since the 1940s, Congress has appropriated funding for the operation and maintenance of state and tribal hatcheries in the lower Columbia River to compensate Northwest states for losses in fish production resulting from the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Federal Mitchell Act funds cover the costs of operating and producing salmon and steelhead at many Columbia River hatcheries, including eight state facilities.