The state Department of Fish and Wildlife may lease its trout hatchery on Clarks Creek in Puyallup to a Portland-based seafood processing and distribution company.
The change could save the state money and create jobs.
But it has some residents and city leaders worried about the impact on public access and on water quality in the creek as fish production is commercialized.
“The hatchery is such a community treasure,” said Puyallup City Councilman John Hopkins, noting that it draws students, school groups and volunteers.
The hatchery dates to the 1940s. A deal to lease it to Pacific Seafood hasn’t been finalized.
The public will have a chance to weigh in before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission votes on any pact, said Heather Bartlett, state hatcheries division manager.
She said leasing the hatchery would save the state money in capital costs because the facility needs more than $2 million in improvements. It also would save the state some of the $350,000 it spends annually on operations, she said.
It’s anticipated that the three employees who work at the facility full-time would be reassigned to a hatchery in Lakewood, Bartlett said.
The Puyallup hatchery raises about 270,000 rainbow trout a year, and she expects that volume would be retained in Lakewood.
Trout from the Puyallup hatchery are planted in lakes around King, Pierce and Thurston counties for recreational fishing.
Pacific Seafood could pay for use of the hatchery in fish, meaning the state’s trout stock would increase, Bartlett said.
Fish and Wildlife staff gave the commission some initial information about the potential lease during a conference call Friday. A more in-depth briefing will follow, possibly at a commission meeting in June.
Craig Urness, Pacific Seafood’s general counsel, said his company could provide “jobs and opportunity to the community” through the hatchery.
As for public access, Urness said the family-owned seafood company would examine past practice at the hatchery.
“So long as our businesses can accommodate that, I don’t see why we would want to change that,” he said.
He said it’s too early to talk about specific plans, although “based on our business needs, we would probably be increasing the activity going on there.”
That’s one point of concern for residents and city officials.
Steve Vermillion, a Puyallup city councilman active in Clarks Creek matters, said he worries about the impact of an expanded commercial operation on an already endangered creek that’s polluted and filled with silt.
He said there also might be a zoning conflict.
“I just see a downside, a significant downside,” he said.
Vermillion described the hatchery as an iconic and valuable community asset. So did residents who spoke about it during and after this week’s Puyallup City Council meeting.
“The fish hatchery has been a very big help to me in many ways,” Jace Harmes-Bowser told the council Tuesday.
The Puyallup High senior works at the facility through a work-study program.
“I think a lot of the community ... they really value the place, they really have a history with it, just like me,” he said.
In all, the state owns or operates more than 80 hatcheries. Bartlett said private companies or other groups run some of them.
Anyone leasing the Puyallup Trout Hatchery would have to follow the same environmental rules and obtain the same permits as the state, Bartlett said.
Recently, members of the Clarks Creek Initiative – a group that includes community, business and local government and education leaders – talked with Fish and Wildlife about forming a hatchery partnership. Their vision includes adding steelhead recovery, water quality restoration work and education opportunities.
Bartlett said the state likes the concept but doesn’t have the money “to do our share.”
She said Pacific Seafood has expressed interest in meeting with the group.