Federal fishery overseers today told hatchery managers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that they can now access millions of dollars in funding that had been held back pending a review of future production practices in the Columbia Basin.
With that completed, letters went out from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Portland office this morning advising ODFW it can withdraw $5.9 million in grants for Mitchell Act facilities, WDFW $5.5 million, USFWS $2.9 million, the Yakama Nation $696,121 and Nez Perce Tribe $127,470.
Disbursement had been held up by last March’s lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy. Last summer NMFS said it wouldn’t release the money until after it finalized a new biop.
That occurred in mid-January, and earlier this week WFC notified NMFS that it was no longer pursuing the preliminary injunction it had filed in U.S. District Court.
The Mitchell Act was created in 1938 by Congress to counteract declining runs in the Columbia. It provides federal funds for hatcheries operated by states, tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce tens of millions of Chinook, coho, steelhead, sockeye and other species that provide the backbone of today’s sport, commercial and tribal fisheries in the ocean and Columbia Basin.
The new biop allows for increased spring Chinook and coho production at select hatcheries, reduced fall Chinook production in the Lower Columbia and the phasing out of out-of-basin steelhead smolt releases, among other changes due to be in place by 2022, while also strengthening protections for ESA-listed stocks.
In the letters to ODFW Director Curt Melcher and WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, the feds write their review “was greatly enhanced by the cooperation and assistance NMFS received from” staff members at both state agencies, and specifically credits Bruce McIntosh and Chris Kern at ODFW and Jim Scott and Eric Kinne at WDFW.
“NOAA Fisheries’ has worked long and hard to complete the biological opinion and to release the funding for these hatchery programs,” said WDFW’s Scott, a special assistant to Unsworth. “This is another important step forward in once again meeting the Congressional mandate for the Mitchell Act to provide for the conservation of the fishery resources of the Columbia River.”
NMFS now turns its attention to hatchery genetic management plans elsewhere in the region.
“Next-up are spring Chinook salmon HGMPs in the Methow, 42 on the Oregon Coast, and 35 more in Puget Sound including Snohomish, Green/Duwamish, Puyallup/White, and Nooksack hatchery programs,” says Rob Jones, chief of Anadromous Production and Inland Fisheries on the West Coast.