On January 23, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted comments to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding NOAA’s Puget Sound Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for two Resource Management Plans (RMPs): the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Hatcheries and the Puget Sound Hatchery Strategies for Steelhead, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Pink Salmon. The two plans, submitted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Puget Sound Treaty Tribes, propose a joint framework by which WDFW and the Puget Sound tribes would manage salmon and steelhead hatchery programs in the region.
CSF’s comments focused on the conservation and economic benefits that hatchery programs in the state of Washington have provided over the years. Without the contributions of state and tribal hatcheries, Puget Sound populations of some salmon species and steelhead would only be a fraction of their current populations. Hatchery-origin Chinook salmon make up, on average, 74 percent of the total returning adults each year, and Puget Sound hatcheries alone account for an annual economic impact of more than $106 million. Overall, recreational angling provides nearly $1.2 billion in annual economic activity in Washington, accounting for over 16,000 Washington jobs and generating over $120 million in state and local tax revenues.
While some research suggests hatchery-origin salmon and steelhead have contributed to the degradation of natural fish stocks in the Puget Sound, numerous other factors, particularly habitat loss, are largely responsible for the decline in native fish stocks in the region. As stated in CSF’s comments, “WDFW and Puget Sound Treaty Tribes have done a remarkable job of protecting the remaining natural-origin spawning stocks, while mitigating for the loss of naturally-sustainable salmon and steelhead populations and providing continued recreational angling, commercial fishing, and tribal harvest opportunities through production of hatchery-origin fish.” Further, CSF advocated for adaptive management procedures that utilize research, monitoring, and scientific evaluation in making decisions about hatchery management in the face of changing circumstances and information. CSF’s preferred alternative from the draft EIS, Alternative 2, “will maintain current levels of production, sustain opportunities for recreational, tribal and commercial harvest, and continue to provide a significant economic impact to the area’s economy.”
Comments are now closed on NOAA’s Puget Sound Draft EIS. NOAA will review public comments submitted on the draft EIS, and a final EIS is expected later in 2015.
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