Another Western Washington hatchery could be on the chopping block due to the state Fish and Wildlife’s budget shortfalls, according to a news release sent out this week.
A public meeting will be held 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Hoodsport Timberland Library on 40 North Schoolhouse Hill Road to discuss what can be done to possibly save the McKernan Hatchery
During the meeting, state Fish and Wildlife staff will discuss qualifications required for organizations interested in partnering with the state to manage salmon and steelhead hatcheries facing closure.
According to a state Fish and Wildlife summary from 2003 the McKernan Hatchery generated $142,000 annually from the State General Fund. The hatchery is staffed with two full-time employees.
Hatchery fall chum production has been developed to augment harvest opportunities and in part, to provide partial mitigation for reduced natural production in the Skokomish system, primarily caused by hydroelectric dams on the North Fork Skokomish. The Skokomish Tribe, whose reservation is located near the mouth of the river, has a reserved treaty right to harvest fall chum salmon.
The McKernan fall chum hatchery escapement levels between 1995 and 2001 were 17,716, 32,828, 12,519, 38,812, 9,772, 2,158 and 45,424, respectively.
Earlier this year, the Legislature directed state Fish and Wildlife to establish a public/private partnership program to continue salmon and steelhead production at state hatcheries now closed or scheduled to close during the 2009-11 biennium.
The news release indicated that while the meeting will focus on criteria for operating the McKernan Hatchery, department managers anticipate the partnership process could apply to other hatcheries that may face closure in the future.
“The McKernan Hatchery is the first facility to be considered for participation in the new partnership program, but the process we develop now could be used with other hatcheries facing closure,” Heather Bartlett, a state Fish and Wildlife hatchery division manager said in the news release.
In the state’s 2009-11 budget, two salmon and steelhead hatcheries were proposed for closure. The McKernan Hatchery, which produces chum salmon and steelhead, is scheduled to be closed June 30. Palmer Ponds, a steelhead rearing and release pond, located on the Green River, is now closed.
Under the hatchery partnership criteria described in the legislation, potential partners must either be federally recognized nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, or federally recognized treaty tribes.
Among other stipulations, the legislation states that applicants must provide a long-range business plan, demonstrate the ability to operate the facility in a manner consistent with state and federal laws and department rules, and maintain staff with qualifications comparable to those of existing fish hatchery personnel.
The hatchery partnership criteria will be finalized by the end of the month. The application process for potential partners interested in operating the McKernan Hatchery will begin in January, Bartlett said.
“[State Fish and Wildlife] recognizes the importance of keeping hatcheries open for the recreational and commercial benefits they provide,” Bartlett said. “We’re committed to finding qualified partners and welcome input from the public on the preliminary criteria we’ve developed outlining the requirements.”
State Fish and Wildlife operates 87 fish hatcheries throughout the state.