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WDFW Hatcheries - Overview


Turtle Rock Hatchery Ponds Hatcheries have operated in Washington State for more than a century, beginning with a facility on the Kalama River in 1895. Since then, state hatcheries have since become an important part of the state's economy, producing millions of fish for harvest by recreational and commercial fishers.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) currently operates 87 hatchery facilities, the majority dedicated to producing salmon and/or steelhead. There are also 51 tribal hatcheries and 12 federal hatcheries that produce salmon and steelhead for harvest.

Tagging studies indicate that more than 75% of the salmon caught in Puget Sound originate from hatcheries. The same is true of 90% of the salmon caught in the Columbia River and 88% of the steelhead caught statewide.

Fish hatcheries also have become an important tool in restoring and conserving the state's wild, naturally-spawning salmon and steelhead populations. At some facilities, eggs from wild fish are incubated, reared as fry, then released as smolts to maximize juvenile survival rates. Others hold and breed wild fish through their lifespan to ensure the perpetuation of critically low populations.

These conservation projects aside, WDFW has become increasingly concerned about the impacts on wild fish of releasing large numbers of hatchery-reared salmon and steelhead into Washington waters. These fish are often less genetically diverse, and can interfere with recovery of wild stocks through interbreeding or competition for food or habitat.

To address these concerns, WDFW has been engaged in a comprehensive reform of its hatchery facilities to minimize adverse impacts of hatchery operations on depressed wild stocks while continuing to produce fish for harvest. Partners in this effort include tribal co-managers, federal natural resource against and the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), an independent panel of scientists appointed by Congress to lay the foundation for hatchery reform.

For more information you can read it here >> Overview

Role of Hatcheries in Wild Stock Recovery

Bull Trout Tagging State hatcheries also play an important role in some aspects of wild salmon recovery. Hatcheries are now viewed by fishery scientists and policy makers as integral tools for the restoration of wild runs that have dwindled because of habitat degradation or other factors. Over 20 hatcheries are involved in recovery actions for 20 currently-listed ESA stocks.

For more information please go to our main website here >> Restoration

Hatchery Production and the Endangered Species Act

Collecting Salmon Eggs While there are many hatchery programs that are acting to stabilize and even increase the abundance of depressed wild stocks, artificial production, in general, has been identified as one of the factors associated with the decline in natural populations of Pacific salmoninds.

All hatchery programs that operate in regions with ESA listed salmon and steelhead populations(PDF) need to be evaluated and permitted through the ESA.

There are several vehicles in the ESA to allow for this permitting, depending on the hatchery operator; section 4(d) is the common vehicle used for artificial production programs.

For more information please go to our main website here >> Hatchery production and the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Wild Stock Restoration

Lewis River Kokanee Hatcheries play several different roles in sustaining wild stocks. For stocks such as Puyallup River spring Chinook, adults are captured and spawned each year and the resulting progeny are reared and released as juveniles. The purpose of these efforts, called "supplementation," is to maximize egg fertilization and fry survival and thereby increase the number of smolts heading out to the ocean ("outmigrating").

For more information you can read about it here >> Restoration

Hatcheries: Then & Now

Paradigm shift may be the best words to describe hatchery management in Washington. Although hatchery programs provide substantial economic benefits to the state of Washington, hatchery fish can potentially pose risks to wild populations of salmon and steelhead. These include two types:
  • Environmental effects such as: increased rates of competition and predation on naturally spawned populations.

  • Genetic effects that result in diminished fitness and survival of hatchery fish relative to naturally spawned fish. When hatchery fish spawn in the wild, reduced fitness and reproductive success may adversely affect the entire "integrated" population (ie. hatchery and natural-spawned fish combined).
To meet the challenge of meeting wild fish conservation objectives and developing sustainable fisheries, WDFW has changed many hatchery practices.

Then   Now
Old black/white picture of small hatcheries   Worker standing in moving trap stream taking data.
  • Hatcheries are operated as factories geared to produce fish

  • Fish managers often don't distinguish hatchery fish from wild fish when making decisions - "a fish is a fish"

  • No independent, systematic science-based evaluation exists to guide fish production

  • Hatchery facilities often are not in compliance with environmental regulations

  • Hatchery managers ask, "How many fish do we want?" and "How big of a factory do we need to deliver that number?"

  • Hatcheries are designed and increasingly operated according to protocols that protect wild fish and compliment ecosystem and recovery goals

  • Fish managers distinguish wild fish from hatchery fish when making management decisions

  • Congress created a Hatchery Scientific Review Group who evaluated all of the hatchery programs and recommended hatchery reform principles and guidance.

  • Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the Hatchery and Fishery Reform Policy C-3619

  • State hatcheries have a multi-year plan to invest money necessary to ensure facilities comply with environmental regulations

  • Hatchery managers ask, "How can we improve hatchery operations and protect wild fish?" and "How should our facility be run to achieve ecosystem goals?"

Hatchery Science

Ultrasound at Kendell Creek

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salmon recovery and conservation, please contact
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Washington Hatcheries
For production and performance information on every WDFW hatchery please go here here.
By the Numbers
  • More than 75% of the salmon caught in Puget Sound and 90% of the salmon and 90% of all steelhead caught in the Columbia River originate from hatcheries.

  • Contribution of hatchery salmon and steelhead fisheries to the state's economy is just under $70 million dollars.

  • WDFW operates 87 hatcheries. Three quarters of these are dedicated to the propagation of salmon and steelhead. The remaining hatcheries propagate trout and other gamefish.

  • Overall salmon and steelhead production by WDFW totals about 190 million juveniles.