In July 1997, Congress directed the Northwest Power Planning Council (Council), with the assistance of the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (a panel of 11 scientists who advise both the Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service on scientific issues related to fish and wildlife), to conduct a thorough review of all federally funded artificial production programs in the Columbia River Basin. Congress directed the Council to recommend a coordinated policy for future operation of artificial production programs and to provide recommendations for how to obtain such a policy.
II. The Council's recommendations
A. Implementing artificial production reform policies
The region needs action and leadership to implement new artificial production policies, to decide whether and where to use artificial production, and to ensure that future artificial production funding is contingent on reforms being made. These decisions need to be made for each subbasin and implemented as part of a broader strategy to meet regional fish recovery goals.
The Council is prepared to do its part by amending its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program beginning this winter. The Council also will set in motion the needed subbasin planning effort. To that end, the Council makes six recommendations for implementing new artificial production policies:
- Tribal, state and federal agencies should evaluate the purposes for each artificial production facility and program in the basin within three years.
- Program managers should evaluate and improve the operation of artificial production programs that have agreed-upon purposes, consistent with the proposed policies in this report.
- Program managers should use existing processes to implement artificial production reforms. Examples of existing processes include the annual federal agency and Northwest Power Planning Council funding processes, Endangered Species Act implementation and the Council's periodic revisions of its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.
- Congress and the Bonneville Power Administration need to ensure that money to implement the reforms is available.
- The Council should assist in the formation of an interagency team to oversee and evaluate the reforms.
- The Council, other regional decision-makers and Congress should assess the success of the recommended reforms after five years.
B. Elements of a coordinated policy for the future role of artificial production in the Columbia River Basin
Artificial production is one of many tools for meeting fish recovery objectives. The need for it, and its effectiveness, must be evaluated as objectives evolve. Artificial production must be used in a manner consistent with an ecologically based scientific foundation for fish recovery so that fish can be raised for harvest while minimizing the impact on, or benefiting, fish that spawn naturally.
Based on a scientific foundation for ecologically sound fish and wildlife management developed as a part of the Multi-Species Framework process, and on a scientific assessment by the Scientific Review Team of how artificial production might fit within that ecological framework, the Council recommends 10 policies to guide use of artificial production:
- The purpose and use of artificial production must be considered in the context of the environment in which it is used.
- Artificial production remains experimental. Adaptive management practices that evaluate benefits and address scientific uncertainties are critical.
- Artificial production programs must recognize the regional and global environmental factors that constrain fish survival.
- Species diversity must be maintained to sustain populations in the face of environmental variation.
- Naturally spawning populations should be the model for artificially reared populations.
- Fish managers must specify the purpose of each artificial production program in the basin.
- Decisions about artificial production must be based on fish and wildlife goals, objectives and strategies at the subbasin and basin levels.
- Because artificial production poses risks, risk management strategies must be implemented.
- Production for harvest is a legitimate management objective of artificial production. But to minimize adverse impacts on naturally spawning populations, harvest rates and practices must be dictated by the need to sustain naturally spawning populations.
- Federal and other legal mandates and obligations for fish protection, mitigation, and enhancement must be fully addressed.
III. Purpose of the Review
A. Brief history of Columbia River Basin fish hatcheries
Artificial production of fish has been used in the Columbia River Basin for many purposes during this century. Hatchery programs have produced both resident fish (those that do not migrate to the ocean, such as bull trout and rainbow trout) and anadromous (ocean-going) fish, especially chinook and coho salmon and steelhead. These species have also been the focus of tribal, sport and commercial fisheries management in the basin.
There are more than 150 hatcheries and associated facilities for anadromous and resident fish in the basin. Federal and state agencies, Indian tribes and private interests operate them. Many are intended to mitigate the impact of dams, which have blocked access to about one-third of the salmon and steelhead habitat that existed historically in the Columbia basin. Dams also affect resident fish by blocking historic freshwater migration routes, inundating spawning areas and altering the "natural" ecosystem.
Resident fish hatcheries, like salmon and steelhead hatcheries, mitigate losses caused by the hydropower system. In some cases, such as in areas blocked by dams, losses of anadromous species are mitigated through the production of resident species, which may include native and nonnative species adapted to the altered environment. Because resident and anadromous fish co-exist in the Columbia River ecosystem, it makes sense to review resident fish artificial production programs together with salmon and steelhead artificial production programs as components of an integrated artificial production program for the future.
Most of the artificial production programs in the Columbia River Basin are financed with federal money in some way. For example, many are financed through annual appropriations by Congress under the Mitchell Act, a 1938 law that provides money to mitigate the impact of federal Columbia River dams and other activities. Others, like the Lower Snake River Compensation Program artificial production programs, which were built to mitigate the impact of federal dams on the lower Snake River, are paid for with annual congressional appropriations that are repaid by the Bonneville Power Administration. Additionally, the Northwest Power Planning Council, through its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, provides money from Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers to finance artificial production programs that mitigate the losses for Indian tribes and others in the basin.
B. Why a review of artificial production was needed
Many species of fish in the Columbia River Basin have declined significantly, particularly ocean-going fish such as salmon and steelhead and certain freshwater species including bull trout and sturgeon. It is a crisis characterized by depleted fish populations, degraded and blocked spawning habitat and protection under the Endangered Species Act for 12 separate salmon and steelhead. Resident fish, including bull trout and sturgeon, are also listed in some areas.
Fish hatcheries play a unique role in the Columbia River Basin. They have been identified as one of the causes of the current declines, particularly for salmon. At the same time they also are considered part of the solution. The purpose of many artificial production programs in the basin is currently unclear. While many artificial production programs were built to mitigate the impact of dams or to produce fish for harvest, their role today is less certain. There also is concern about adverse impacts of artificially produced fish on fish that spawn naturally.
Salmon and steelhead artificial production programs historically produced fish for harvest by tribal, commercial and sport fishers. Artificial production programs are capable of producing literally millions of fish, vastly beyond the production capability of fish that spawn naturally. Yet both types of fish ? artificially and naturally spawning ? are caught in Columbia River fisheries. The cumulative effect contributed to overfishing the naturally spawning populations, and ultimately speeded their decline.
As declines continued, fisheries scientists increasingly recognized that traditional fish hatchery practices needed to be changed. Producing fish for harvest remains a legitimate use for artificial production programs, but scientists are identifying and articulating a role for artificially produced fish as functioning components of ecosystems.
Artificial production programs might be used to rebuild populations of fish that spawn naturally and also provide fish for tribal, sport and commercial harvest. In doing so, they should minimize the adverse impacts from interactions between artificially produced fish and those that spawn naturally. Interactions can adversely impact the unique genetics of fish that spawn naturally and, over time, dilute or weaken the unique genetic makeup of those populations.
IV. How the Council conducted the review
The Council, in coordination with the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, appointed a Scientific Review Team of experts in artificial production to provide an independent assessment of the basin's artificial production programs. In April 1999, the Team submitted its report (see Appendix 1), a review of science, to the Council (see document 99-4).
The Council also conducted an extensive public process that received input and comment from hatchery managers, tribes, environmental groups, recreational fishers and others. The Council appointed a Production Review Committee to coordinate the artificial production review and assist the Council in developing artificial production policies. The committee was composed of approximately 25 individuals with expertise and interest in fish production, who met once a month beginning in January 1998. The Council also conducted two public workshops and numerous public meetings to discuss artificial production, explain progress on the review and to receive public comment.