‘Strong’ reaction halts plan to lease hatchery
A seafood company won’t lease the state-owned Puyallup Trout Hatchery on Clarks Creek – at least not anytime soon.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife this week suspended negotiations with Portland-based Pacific Seafood, said Heather Bartlett, state hatcheries division manager.
The state made the move “in light of the strong negative reactions we received from the community,” Bartlett said Thursday, referring to a public outcry after news of the possible pact circulated last month.
Opponents raised concerns about everything from the impact on public access to the effect of an expanded commercial operation on the already-polluted creek. They also criticized Fish and Wildlife for not notifying the public sooner of the lease discussions.
“People voiced their opinion,” said Puyallup City Councilman Steve Vermillion. “It was almost a rallying cry to say, ‘We don’t like this. We think it’s wrong.’ Now, (the public) can see the impact that it had.”
Craig Urness, Pacific Seafood’s general counsel, confirmed Thursday that negotiations are off.
He said his company still is interested in “being able to form a public-private partnership” at the hatchery “if the appropriate circumstances exist for everybody.”
Last month, he told The News Tribune that a Pacific Seafood lease could create jobs.
Bartlett also said it could save the state money during tight financial times when Fish and Wildlife is supposed to seek “partnership opportunities” for hatcheries while reducing the state’s operating costs.
“We’ve suspended (lease) discussions, but it hasn’t solved our problem,” Bartlett said. “The financial issues related to the state hatchery system remain.”
In all, the state owns or operates more than 80 hatcheries. One of them – Rocky Ford Hatchery in Grant County – is leased by a private aquaculture company, Troutlodge. The same company also leases a state shellfish lab.
Bartlett said she’s heard Puyallup community members talk of forming a partnership at the Clarks Creek hatchery “built on community involvement,” and her department wants to see concrete ideas.
The Puyallup Trout Hatchery dates to the 1940s. It’s open to the public and draws community volunteers, school groups and students.
Trout from the hatchery are planted in lakes in Pierce, King and Thurston counties for fishing. About 270,000 rainbow trout are raised there annually.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians feels the hatchery should be used to raise steelhead and Chinook to replenish the river, and is interested in working with the state, said John Weymer, tribal spokesman.
The tribe is glad the lease talks are suspended, he said.
In a statement, Bill Sterud, tribal council vice chairman, said a large corporation taking over a public hatchery for profit “is a scary thing,” saying disease could wipe out fish populations.
“It’s important that the hatchery is run by organizations that are looking out for the best interest of the health of the river,” Sterud said.
State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said he wants to see the community step up for the hatchery. He and state Reps. Bruce Dammeier and Hans Zeiger, both Puyallup-area Republicans, signed a letter pressing Fish and Wildlife for information after rumors circulated in recent months.
They all described the hatchery as a community asset.
“It’s important we not sit back and wait for something else to happen,” Kastama said. “Often times, when something is about to be taken away, then people realize how important it is.”