Industry dollars will operate McKernan Hatchery

Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.

The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their regular jobs. See my story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.

Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story: Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on wild salmon?

Heather Bartlett, hatchery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, pointed out that McKernan is not set up for coho or chinook. Besides, she said, wild coho and chinook stocks are depressed, and chinook are listed as a threatened species. Thus hatchery operations would be constrained for those stocks, and harvests on the fish produced would undoubtedly be limited to protect wild fish.

As for the impact of the McKernan Hatchery on wild stocks, we turn to recommendations by the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (PDF 759 kb) (page 49) for recommendations about protecting wild salmon throughout Hood Canal. Here are specific findings for McKernan:

“Considering the size of the fish at release, the program is not likely to pose any significant ecological risk to other species of salmonids in Hood Canal. Also, the timing of release should ensure that risks to listed Hood Canal summer chum are minimal. The large size of the releases, however, likely poses a risk of competition with wild fall chum juveniles in Hood Canal. In addition, because of the large size of the program, straying of hatchery adults may present genetic risks to wild Hood Canal fall chum populations, particularly wild fall chum in the Skokomish system.”

Recommendations from the scientific group included reducing the number of chum produced at in the Hood Canal complex, made up of McKernan, George Adams and Hoodsport hatcheries. In response to the recommendations, the state has cut back the total number of chum produced. To reduce crowding, McKernan Hatchery has upgraded its incubation facilities and reduced the number of fry transferred to other hatcheries.

Other recommendations:

  • Monitor harvest and surpluses.
  • Continue to collect all adults returning to McKernan (to reduce straying) and ensure that the eggtake is representative of the entire Hood Canal fall chum run timing.
  • Cease all out-of-watershed transfers of eggs and fry to other Hood Canal hatcheries.
  • Mark a portion of the hatchery releases and conduct tests to determine the level of straying into the Skokomish River.
  • Upgrade the adult collection facility, so that the sorting of returning adults is possible.

Hatchery managers say they have addressed these issues to make sure that McKernan can produce substantial numbers of chum without significantly affecting wild stocks.

Despite the reforms and improvements in hatchery operations, some observers will argue that production hatcheries, such as McKernan, should be shut down entirely to protect wild stocks. Of course, the opposing side of the argument is that commercial fishing for abundant stocks of salmon contributes to the rural economy and provides salmon to people who like to eat them.

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