KEYWORDS: salmon Northwest environmental news fish management salmon threatened salmon on the Olympic Peninsula Hurd Creek Hatchery Jamestown S’Klallam tribe wildlife management Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Program Washington hatchery programs Naselle hatchery Coulter Creek hatchery Dungeness River chinook runs captive brood chinook returns Western Washington’s hatchery programs endangered native salmon
AUTHOR: Lewis Kamb, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter
Plan to cut hatchery threatens peninsula runs, manager says
Tribal authorities fear threatened salmon on the Olympic Peninsula would “spiral toward extinction” under Gov. Gary Locke’s plan to close a 2-decade-old state salmon hatchery.
The Hurd Creek Hatchery — one of three state hatcheries targeted for closure under Locke’s proposed budget — is a vital component of salmon recovery in upper peninsula river systems, said Scott Chitwood, fisheries manager for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. Without it, he said, “our ability to continue recovery work is severely hampered.”
State budget advisers and wildlife authorities admit they don’t want to close the programs. But a difficult budget season in which Washington faces a $2.6 billion shortfall forced them to make sacrifices, they said.
“We would not be closing these facilities if we were not under a mandate to cut hatchery facilities,” said Lew Atkins, assistant director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Program.
With Locke’s request that the agency trim $1.3 million from its $14.6 million biannual general fund allotment for state hatchery programs, department officials undertook an extensive review of its 91 hatchery facilities, Atkins said.
But most Washington hatchery programs are protected from reductions under state and federal legal obligations and fishery management plans, leaving only about a dozen facilities unprotected, Atkins said.
Officials looked hard at each using a host of criteria — from facility condition to program effectiveness — to select which programs to cut, Atkins said.
Along with the Hurd Creek facility — between Sequim and Port Townsend along a tributary of the Dungeness River — the department targeted the Naselle hatchery near Grays Harbor and the Coulter Creek hatchery near Gig Harbor.
The three hatcheries would close at the end of June under Locke’s budget plan. Neither the state House or Senate has proposed budget plans yet.
Since the state took over the Hurd Creek hatchery in the early 1980s, its primary goal has been restoring dwindling Dungeness River chinook runs.
In the mid-1990s, the hatchery introduced the “captive brood” technique — a program that hatches and rears wild salmon and confines them in a hatchery environment for their entire lives — under a short-term pilot project.
Although yields have been slow, Atkins and Chitwood said chinook returns have showed slight increases in the Dungeness system in recent years.
Still, the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, an independent panel of scientists established by Congress to evaluate Western Washington’s hatchery programs, recently recommended that Hurd Creek’s captive brood program be replaced by alternative methods.
All along, the program was set to end in June 2004 — another factor that played into the state’s decision to target Hurd Creek for closure, said Jim Cahill, a senior budget assistant for the state.
But mostly, Cahill said, “We had to find the money somewhere.”
Chitwood, along with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, finds the state’s “economic argument” in determining which hatcheries to close is more fallacy than shrewd decision making — especially for Hurd Creek.
The hatchery’s two-year operating costs run only about $200,000, he said. Chitwood suspects that filling the void left with Hurd Creek’s closure eventually will force authorities to increase program costs at nearby hatchery facilities in the Dungeness and Lower Elwha River systems.
Ultimately, “that’s not a good exchange,” Chitwood said.
That’s because Hurd Creek offers “an ideal hatchery water source” for the Dungeness system, he said. Its water is cleaner with little fluctuation in temperature — ideal conditions for egg incubation and early rearing facilities used for several river and streams in the area.
“This is why Hurd Creek is such an important component for salmon recovery programs on the peninsula,” Chitwood said. “None of the other facilities has that kind of water quality.”
Fish and Wildlife’s Atkins said that despite the proposed closure, salmon egg incubation programs will continue at Hurd Creek. He added that the intended budget cut “doesn’t preclude continued operation of the hatchery under some kind of alternative funding” — should the state or tribes find it.
It’s unlikely to come from a small, strapped tribe like the Jamestown S’Klallam, Chitwood said. “And we’ve not yet been invited to any discussions on the future of Hurd Creek — if there is a future,” he added.
Even if the hatchery somehow survives the governor’s cuts, another threat lingers for Hurd Creek.
Last week, two conservationist groups filed suit to halt the Department of Fish and Wildlife from releasing hatchery fish into Puget Sound, contending that such strains harm endangered native salmon, and thus are illegal under the federal Endangered Species Act. The groups seek an injunction to halt such releases from 30 state hatchery programs — including Hurd Creek.
Lewis Kamb is a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . Mr. Kamb can be reached by phone at 206-448-8336 or by email at [email protected].