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Recommendation: 6

Status: Underway

Significantly increase hatchery production and programs to benefit Southern Resident orcas consistent with sustainable fisheries and stock management, available habitat, recovery plans, and the Endangered Species Act. Hatchery increases need to be done in concert with significantly increased habitat protection and restoration measures.


Action 1

Fund the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribes to significantly increase hatchery production (about 50 million smolts increase) in Puget Sound, on the Washington Coast, and in the Columbia River basin.

Action 2

Do pilot tests in hatcheries to refine location, timing, age, size, and other factors to produce enough hatchery Chinook salmon without producing too many to compete with wild fish.

Action 3

Manage the increase to make sure there is enough habitat for both hatchery and wild salmon.

Action 4

Increase funding to cover the operational, infrastructure, management, and monitoring costs for increased hatchery production.

Action 5

Do comprehensive reviews every 5 years to ensure things are working as they should.

Implementation Details

2020 and Beyond

To supplement 2019 hatchery production increases, fund the Department of Fish and Wildlife and co-managers in Fiscal Year 2020 and into the future to increase hatchery production for the benefit of Southern Resident orcas at facilities in Puget Sound, on the Washington Coast, and in the Columbia River basin, in a manner consistent with sustainable fisheries and stock management, state- and federally-adopted recovery plans, and the Endangered Species Act. Increased production can be assessed at appropriate state, tribal, federal, or private facilities that most benefit orcas.

The Governor also should ask other funders–such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife–of hatchery programs for Chinook stocks that are a priority for Southern Resident orcas to maintain or increase production levels for those stocks, so additional hatchery investments result in an overall increase in food abundance. Increasing hatchery production will require funding for the following activities:

Adaptive Management and 5-Year Comprehensive Reviews

To continue ongoing hatchery production with funding at the increased levels, the Department of Fish and Wildlife must conduct annual adaptive management and 5-year comprehensive reviews and adjust production and practices accordingly to limit impacts on natural salmon stocks if the reviews provide evidence of significant risk to the recovery of natural salmon stocks.

These reviews should consider stray rates, productivity, juvenile rearing carrying capacity, density dependence, smolt-to-adult ratios, genetic fitness, and other appropriate metrics to determine if action is needed to ensure the health or recovery of natural stocks.

In coordination with this effort, annual and 5-year reviews will evaluate the effectiveness of increased hatchery production to increase salmon available to Southern Resident orcas at times and locations determined critical to successful feeding, and to ensure effective support of fisheries management plans related to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, tribal treaty right fisheries, and other plans, and adjust hatchery production and practices also to maximize benefits to orcas and fisheries.

Accomplishing this review will require additional state funding for the department and co-managers in future years (such as in years when hatchery-produced fish return to Washington waters).

Production at the 2019 Level

Although the Legislature provided funding in Fiscal Year 2019 to increase hatchery production with existing infrastructure, continued funding is needed to continue these production increases.

Additional Science and Infrastructure to Support Increased Production for Orcas

Additional funding is needed to expand production beyond the 2019 level driven by the Southern Residents’ needs. Expanding production significantly will require additional hatchery facility capacity upgrades and should use the best available science on hatchery production to adaptively manage the program to consider the factors listed.

Collaboration Among the Department and Co-managers on Hatchery Production

The Governor and Legislature also should provide funding to the department and co-managers to coordinate with NOAA and Long Live the Kings and begin testing pilot actions in hatcheries in 2019.

These pilots should aim to accomplish the following:

  • Increase marine survival of Chinook
  • Adjust return timing and locations to align with orcas’ needs
  • Assess the feasibility and develop a plan to potentially increase size and age of returns
  • Reduce potential competition with wild fish

This work should build from, and test findings of, the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, NOAA’s salmon ocean program, and other relevant efforts that are working to determine what is driving the survival of Chinook as they migrate downstream and through the marine environment.

Hatchery pilots may require additional production to ensure existing production levels are not affected by these trials, which have uncertain outcomes in terms of fish survival. Pilot hatchery actions should be used to gather science to adaptively manage hatchery production levels and practices, including guiding the continued increases of hatchery production over time to provide more adult Chinook for Southern Residents, while ensuring increases are done in a manner that complies with Endangered Species Act guidelines and that does not impact Chinook recovery.

Recent Progress

The Legislature has provided $18 million in the 2021-23 biennial budget to state agencies, tribes, and public utility districts to increase hatchery production, which is expected to add more than 26.1 million smolts annually. Read NOAA’s blog.

In that same budget, the Legislature provided nearly $40 million (a 20 percent increase) to improve hatchery facilities, $1 million for hatchery maintenance, and $500,000 for a hatchery master plan. Watch the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s video on hatcheries.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.