Hood Canal council questions hatchery cuts

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to drop a proposal for major budget cuts to the George Adams and Hoodsport hatcheries in southern Hood Canal.

“The economic loss to our HCCC member counties and tribes does not justify the small savings that would be afforded to the state budget,” wrote Council Chairman Jeromy Sullivan in a letter to the governor.

2014 WDFW Supplemental Budget
2014 WDFW Supplemental Operating Budget

The governor’s budget (PDF 134 kb) includes hatchery reductions proposed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which was trying to meet the governor’s call for a 15-percent reduction in General Fund expenditures.

Hatcheries proposed for outright closure include Minter Creek Hatchery near Gig Harbor, 6.5 million chum, coho and fall chinook; Naselle Hatchery on Willapa Bay, 2.5 million coho, chum and fall chinook plus 19,000 trout and 75,000 steelhead; Nemah Hatchery near Willapa Bay, 3.3 million fall chinook and chum; and Samish Hatchery near Bellingham, 4 million fall chinook. For details, check out WDFW’s budget page.

Under the plan, the Hoodsport Hatchery would save $132,000 by reducing production of fall chinook salmon by 800,000 fry and eliminating production of 12 million chum and 500,000 pink salmon. George Adams Hatchery would save $87,000 by eliminating production of 2.1 million chum.

Kelly Cunningham, deputy assistant director of WDFW in charge of the Fish Program, forwarded me the department’s economic analysis of the hatchery reduction.

For the Hoodsport Hatchery, the estimated loss in personal income by businesses associated with commercial and sport fishing would be about $4.15 million, according to state estimates. For the George Adams Hatchery, the loss would be more than $900,000.

In other words, for a savings of $219,000 in the state budget, workers in the fishing industry would lose more than $5 million. And that does not include the economic value related to harvests outside of Washington state, Kelly Cunningham told me.

Decisions about which hatcheries to cut included considerations of court orders, tribal agreements and hatchery-reform recommendations, as well as economic benefit, Kelly explained. But he wasn’t specific about whether the hatchery cuts aligned with any identified ecological benefits.

The state and tribes have been under pressure from the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce the unintended harvest of wild chinook, a threatened species, caused by large numbers of hatchery chinook coming into the Skokomish River at the same time. Another concern has been stray chinook bypassing Purdy Creek (where the George Adams Hatchery is located) and interacting with wild stocks in the Skokomish River. See my story in the Kitsap Sun, Oct. 26, 2013.

The long-term plan is to develop a late-timed chinook stock that returns to the Skokomish at a different time than the wild stock, allowing more targeted harvesting of the hatchery fish. See “Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan” (PDF 725 kb)

Sullivan’s letter to the governor continues:

“HCCC members appreciate the difficult budget climate that you and the state Legislature are facing. We urge you, however, to be forward-looking and recognize that stronger local economies will, in the long term, contribute significantly to a strong state budget and financial situation.”

Sullivan was authorized to send the letter during a recent meeting of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, whose members are county commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along with leaders from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes. Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council.

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