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Finally! Something Goes Right With Puget Sound Steelhead Hatcheries


April 15, 2016
Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries Approves Puget Sound Steelhead Hatchery Programs
Five fish hatchery programs that support steelhead fishing in the Dungeness, Stillaguamish, Nooksack, and Snohomish (Skykomish and Snoqualmie) River basins of Washington have been approved by NOAA Fisheries.
The programs produce early winter steelhead for harvest. The fish are adapted to conditions in the hatcheries and return to rivers and streams earlier than most other Puget Sound steelhead. NOAA Fisheries is the lead federal agency for salmon and steelhead management and reviewed the hatchery programs for adverse impacts on natural populations of Puget Sound steelhead, Chinook salmon, and Hood Canal summer chum salmon that are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In November of 2014, state and tribal plans for the five steelhead hatchery programs were ready for NOAA Fisheries review. Since then, NOAA Fisheries conducted several analyses, including an Environmental Impact Statement, to evaluate the potential impacts of the programs. After seeking extensive public input through five public comment periods, NOAA Fisheries reached its determination to approve the hatchery steelhead programs under specific conditions.
“There are pros and cons to hatchery programs and we examined these programs from many different angles before coming to a conclusion,” said Rob Jones, Hatcheries Chief for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
NOAA Fisheries’ approval requires hatchery managers to limit the impacts of the hatchery steelhead on Puget Sound’s natural populations of steelhead and salmon. These impacts can result from interbreeding, competition, and predation. The conditions applied to the hatchery programs are based on best available scientific information and are tailored to hatchery practices, environmental conditions, and hatchery effects that are unique to each program.
The approval also requires annual monitoring and reporting to verify that impacts of the hatchery programs do not exceed the low levels outlined in the conditions.
There is no expiration date for these approvals. They are effective as long as the effects of the hatchery programs remain low, there are no changes to the hatchery operations that NOAA Fisheries analyzed and approved, and no changes to the status of the ESA listed species.  
NOAA Fisheries has so far approved plans for 22 hatchery programs in Puget Sound and nearby areas, and is currently working on review of another 26. For more information, including access to NOAA Fisheries’ decision documents and other materials for this action, please visit our website at:
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