Agencies review Puget Sound hatchery plans

How Puget Sound fish hatcheries will operate in the future could be determined by an environmental impact statement now being developed.

As part of that process, NOAA Fisheries is holding public workshops this week to discuss the draft environmental impact statement that assesses alternative operations of salmon and steelhead hatcheries around the Sound.

The proposed action alternative in the draft would operate hatcheries under two state and tribal resource management plans developed jointly by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound treaty tribes, according to a NOAA news release.

The proposed action would maintain hatchery production at current levels.

One plan covers hatchery programs that produce chinook, while the other covers hatchery programs for for steelhead and coho salmon, pink salmon, fall-run chum salmon, and sockeye salmon.

The resource management plans outline how 133 hatchery programs in the region would be managed while balancing the conservation needs for salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act. Puget Sound chinook and steelhead were listed as threatened in August 2011.

Those hatchery programs use 49 hatcheries and 34 net pens, including 12 in the South Sound, producing more than 146 million salmon and steelhead every year, according to the draft statement.

The other alternatives evaluated in the draft include taking no action, increasing hatchery production to almost 170 million fish to increase harvest benefits and reducing hatchery production to 135 million fish and reducing harvest in some waters.

The draft goes on to discuss the biologic and economic benefit of each option for tribal, recreational and non-tribal commercial fisheries. Details include the impact on fishing expenditures and the availability of salmon as food for the Southern Resident orcas and bids such as bald eagles.

Unlike most draft impact statements, this one does not contain a preferred alternative. The National Marine Fisheries Service will identify a preferred alternative in the final statement after considering the comments received on the draft. That could be a combination of the alternatives evaluated in the draft statement.

At the upcoming workshops, NOAA Fisheries representatives will discuss the draft statement and answer questions.