Nearly a million juvenile salmon may be released prematurely from the Sol Duc fish hatchery, virtually all to a certain death, because of state budget cuts, officials have warned.
The small operation, which affects the Quileute Indians, recreational fishing and related businesses, is one of half a dozen hatcheries in Western Washington on a potential hit list because of a legislative mandate that all state agencies cut their budgets by 5 percent.
The Quileutes are co-managers of the hatchery, which has five employees.
“The tribal community is very concerned about this,” said Steve Meadows, a biologist and the tribe’s assistant natural resource director. “We’ve been in discussions with fishery officials, trying to decide what programs we can do without and what we need. This would have a major impact on the spring and fall fishery.”
Rob Alan, Sol Duc hatchery manager, said the 850,000 coho and about 250,000 spring chinook normally are released in April to head for the ocean.
Releasing the young fish eight months early could damage wild salmon runs because of the resulting competition for food, Alan said.
State Rep. Jim Buck said an environmental impact statement would be required and contended that in any event an early release would violate laws that require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect fish resources.
“They are not to impair the resources in any way,” Buck said Wednesday.
“I am really, really annoyed about this,” he said. “I thought we made it through appropriations holding the line.”
The cut list that includes Sol Duc is not final, said Chuck Johnson, the department’s division manager for hatcheries on the northern Olympic Peninsula.
“There have been many attempts to close hatcheries in the 20 years I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “This is the latest round of discussion. It really is a no-win situation for everybody. My fingers are crossed that this won’t happen, but we’re telling people to prepare for it.”
The strongest impact from dumping the fish would be in three years, when survivors would be due to return to spawn.
The hatchery budget cut proposals are being weighed amid growing efforts to rebuild dwindling salmon runs, partly through habitat restoration, throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“What this could mean is we’ll have to start relying on wild salmon, and we have not fixed their habitats,” Alan said. “We haven’t even managed yet to co-manage with the tribes, and the wild salmon runs are too weak.
“But what we’ll be doing is dumping these fish and saying, ‘OK, Mother Nature, go ahead and take over.’ I can’t see that working. The runs simply are not strong enough.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.