3 Million More Smolts for Columbia Basin Hatcheries

Plans to release 3 million additional hatchery-raised smolts into the Columbia River Basin are raising questions about the impacts increased hatchery production could have on recovering wild stocks.

An estimated 3 million additional hatchery salmon smolts are set to be released into the Columbia River basin over the next year, through artificial production projects funded through the Bonneville Power Administration's fish and wildlife program.

The concerns came up at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Sept. 12 meeting.

Mark Fritsch, the Council's project implementation manager, updated the Council on 11 hatchery programs that have undergone a three-step review--a process required for all new fish and wildlife program hatchery projects or facilities--and four more potential projects that have not yet been reviewed.

In an interview with NW Fishletter, Fritsch said 3 million new hatchery fish may sound like a lot, but it's not such a large number compared with the roughly 139.5 million hatchery salmon and steelhead now released into the system each year.

At the peak of hatchery production, which occurred in 1981, some 237 million fish were produced in the basin's hatcheries, Fritsch said.

Hatcheries then started reducing production in the mid-1980s, and by the early 1990s, total releases had dropped to about 217 million salmon annually. By 1997, those releases leveled off to about 150 million fish.

Read the rest of the story in NW FishLetter here: