The Oregon Hatchery Accountability Project:
A More Ecologically and Fiscally Sound Approach to Managing Oregon’s Hatcheries
Oregon operates a fish hatchery system statewide that includes several dozen separate facilities. These facilities each have numerous hatchery programs that, when combined, produce millions of salmon, steelhead and trout each year for release into the waters of the state to support commercial and recreational fisheries. The annual cost to operate the state hatchery system exceeds $25 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from the federal government. Commercial and recreational license revenues contribute most of the rest, except for just over $2 million per year, which comes from the state general fund (Oregon taxpayers). The cost of the hatchery program is increasing at the rate of about $1 million dollars per year. It’s questionable whether that rate of growth can be sustained in today’s economic climate.
The Native Fish Society is seeking ways to provide more fiscal and ecological accountability in the operation of Oregon’s hatchery system. This need is even more acute now given the state’s current fiscal problems. Oregon’s Hatchery Accountability Project would have the state of Oregon contract with an independent third party for a risk/benefit review of each of its separate hatchery programs in order to determine the return on the state’s investment and to analyze the risks of these programs to native species and the environment. This review would help prioritize individual hatchery operations as reductions in these program occur.
This risk/benefit analysis would help answer the following questions:
- What is the return on Oregon’s investment in terms of fish actually harvested in commercial and recreational fisheries?
- Are the angling opportunities provided commensurate with the investment and the risk?
- What are the environmental risks and costs associated with each hatchery program?
The best place to begin with this analysis would be those hatchery programs that a) seem overly expensive b) only serve small segments of the angling community or c) have a high risk of adversely affecting native fish and wildlife populations. Examples likely include:
- The non-native Atlantic salmon stocking program
- The Cascade lakes exotic brook trout stocking program
- The stocking of trout in flowing waters
- The Willamette basin non-native summer steelhead program
- Other programs that utilize non-native or out-of-basin fish stocks
- Hatchery salmon and steelhead programs that fail to adhere to stray standards established to protect the genetic integrity of and to limit the ecological impact to wild salmonid populations.
Over the last several years there have been a number of independent scientific reviews of hatchery programs in the Pacific Northwest. Many of these studies have led to recommendations for ways to reform the hatchery system in order to make it more compatible with efforts to recover federally listed populations of native salmon and steelhead in the region. While a few of the recommended reforms have begun to occur, most federal and state hatchery programs are still operating in the same way they have been for many decades.
One of the more recent efforts at recommending hatchery reform was from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG). An article in the November 2011 issue of Fisheries describes the work of the HSRG and the principles and recommendations they put forward. The last of seventeen recommendations in the report from the HSRG is to “Discontinue or modify (hatchery) programs if risks outweigh the benefits.” Oregon’s Hatchery Accountability Project will help provide the information necessary to follow through with this recommendation for hatchery programs operated by the state of Oregon.
The Native Fish Society believes that the information provided by this Hatchery Accountability Project will provide ODFW, the governor and the Oregon Legislature with valuable tools to use in assuring that Oregon’s fish hatchery program is operated in the public interest for the long-term benefit and health of our native fish and wildlife resources consistent with the directive in the State Wildlife Policy (ORS496.012). That statute requires that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission “prevent the serious depletion of any indigenous species…”.Given the fact that many of our native fish populations are already seriously depleted and currently listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, it’s clear that Oregon has failed to carry out this required mandate in the State Wildlife Policy. By implementing this accountability project, Oregon can reverse this trend and begin living up to its obligation to protect the state’s native fish and wildlife resources.
The Native Fish Society