Thursday, April 19, 2012
YKFP Responds to Concern over Klickitat Hatchery Expansion
Last summer the Bonneville Power Administration, in conjunction with the Yakama Nation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining a planned expansion of hatchery operations in the Klickitat River. The plan includes an expansion and upgrade of the current hatchery on the Upper Klickitat, and new hatchery facility at Wahkiacus. While the agency and tribe allege that the hatchery expansion is necessary to reduce the impacts of hatchery programs on wild fish in the basin, the proposal fails to address the threats posed by non-native hatchery stocks that are currently released in the Klickitat. If the plan is adopted the number of non-native skamania stock steelhead released annually would actually increase from below 100,000 to 130,000. The plan also fails to address the ecological and genetic risks posed by hatchery programs for non-native fall chinook and coho by continuing to release both species into the Klickitat above Lyle Falls where they were never historically present. As many as 4 million juvenile fall Chinook would still be released into the upper river and while the plan does include provisions for reducing the number of coho being released from 3.7 to 1 million juvniles, these reductions would only take place if the combined harvest goal of 14,000 fish could be met with lower smolt releases. The plan also calls for a "conservation" hatchery program that would take 3-10% of the wild steelhead run for broodstock, releasing as many as 70,000 smolts into the river above Castile Falls, as well as a spring chinook broodstock program that would take as much as 30% of the current spring chinook run into captivity and expand spring chinook releases to 800,000.
The YKFP and BPA claim that this multimillion dollar expansion is necessary to meet hatchery reform goals in the basin, but the reality is they're funding an expansion of hatchery infrastructure in the Klickitat, giving up very little in terms of hatchery releases and calling it reform. They're talking out both sides of their mouths, claiming that hatchery reform is needed to reduce the impact of hatchery programs on wild stocks and then claiming that they need more hatchery programs to recover depressed wild populations, which are depressed largely because of the massive hatchery programs which have been on going in the Klickitat for decades.
So last summer a coaltion of groups that included the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society, FFF Steelhead Committee and the Washington Fly Fishing Club submitted comprehensive comments on the proposal, outlining our concerns and backing them up with the extensive body of scientific research which has demonstrated the impacts of hatchery programs on wild populations.
Since then we've been awaiting a response from either the BPA or YKFP and hadn't heard anything. However at this years Klickitat River Science conference Joe Zendt, a biologist with the YKFP gave a talk outlining the concerns surrounding the hatchery expansion and for the most part dismissing the threats posed by the hatchery programs. Here's a list of the criticisms and the YKFP response
1. We had suggested that fisheries managers removed non-native coho and fall chinook from the upriver population by taking them at the fish ladder.
Apparently this is not feasible since many fish leap the falls and never enter the fish ladder. However, if non-native fish such a fall chinook and coho were released into the lower river and, to the extent possible removed from the upriver population using the fish ladder it would likely result in dramatic reductions in the number of both species spawning in the upper river.
2. The expanded spring chinook hatchery program and taking upwards of 30% of the wild run for brood threatens the fragile wild population.
The YKFP points out that the population is currently very fragile, that it has not rebounded from its depressed state and that the hatchery expansion is necessary to recover wild spring chinook. This fails to acknowledge the fact that wild spring chinook in the basin are depressed and not recovering BECAUSE of the large numbers of hatchery spring chinook that currently spawn in the wild. Domesticating a significant proportion of the run and increasing the number of hatchery fish released in the basin will depress the productivity of wild spring chinook further.
3. Expanded skamania hatchery program and wild broodstock program for summer steelhead threatens the ESA listed wild population.
The YKFP points out that only 4% of outmigrating juveniles had Skamania parents. Furthermore, they argue that because there is still strong genetic differentiation between the Skamania hatchery population and wild summer steelhead in the Klickitat the amount of spawning between hatchery and wild fish is negligible.
4% of outmigrating juveniles is not inconsequential and this argument ignores the fact that hatchery offspring have worse survival than their wild counterparts at every stage in their life-cycle, meaning the actual number of juveniles that were spawned by hatchery parents was probably higher. The fact that the wild population remains genetically distinct from their hatchery counterparts is also no assurance that large numbers of hatchery fish are not spawning in the wild. Since the fitness of hatchery offspring is so low, their genetic material is unlikely to remain in the population over time.
This logic also entirely ignores the ecological impacts of hatchery fish spawning in the wild. Competition between juvenile offspring of hatchery and wild fish can be substantial. In the North Fork Clackamas River releases of non-native summer runs were discontinued in 2000, and since then wild populations have made a strong recovery.
4. The YKFP also uses radio telemetry data to suggest that there is very little overlap between hatchery spawning and wild spawning.
While it may be true that generally, fish from segregated hatchery programs spawn earlier that their wild counterparts, new scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that large numbers of hatchery fish from segregated hatchery programs spawn in the wild. Furthermore, wild steelhead populations from other nearby basins such as the Yakima and Wind have experienced marked increases in abundance over the last decade, both systems do not receive plants of hatchery steelhead. While data on Klickitat steelhead is very poor, wild steelhead in the basin are not believed to have experienced substantial recovery over the same period. With an ESA listed population of summer steelhead in the basin, fisheries managers should be taking every measure possible to ensure recovery of wild stocks.
We're still a long way from resolving the issue, but not surprisingly the YKFP and BPA don't appear ready to concede the risks posed by their hatchery expansion. We're yet to see an updated EIS but when it's released we'll let you know.