The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved a proposal by the Yakama Nation April 10 to convert a segregated spring Chinook hatchery program in the Klickitat River to an integrated one.

Instead of raising hatchery Chinook to manage separately from a wild run of spring Chinook in the Klickitat River, the tribe will begin to integrate broodstock from the wild run into its hatchery program, and eventually stop producing the hatchery stock with no wild origins.

Chris Frederiksen, research scientist with the Yakama Nation, told the Council that objectives of the hatchery reform effort will be to continue to provide both tribal and nontribal fishing opportunities while increasing viability of the natural spring Chinook run that spawn in the Klickitat River.

Frederiksen said that wild runs are currently depressed--between 179 and 685 adults have returned to the river to spawn each year for the last 12 years. Biologists have counted between 50 and 231 Chinook redds where eggs are laid in the Klickitat River in those years, he said.

"These low numbers are fairly concerning. If you look at the viability standards for a population, it's well below that," Frederiksen told the Council. While the Klickitat River spring Chinook are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, they are a species of concern, he said.

Funded by federal agencies, the Klickitat Hatchery was built in 1954 under the Mitchell Act as mitigation for hydropower operations, and is managed by the Yakama Nation and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Frederiksen said over the years, very few, if any, wild Chinook broodstock from the Klickitat River were used to create the hatchery stock, which includes about 600,000 smolts that are raised and released every year. Returns of these hatchery Chinook have fluctuated considerably over the last 14 years, ranging from 1,137 to 5,959 fish, he said.

But hatchery managers have no method of preventing hatchery fish from spawning with wild fish, and have determined that about 38 percent of them escape to spawn in the wild, Frederiksen said. That mixing of stocks has been shown to reduce the fitness of wild fish, and could be contributing to some of the lower returns, he added.

With the Council's approval, the tribe now plans to capture as many as 68 wild Chinook each year at a newly constructed facility at Lyle Falls and use them as broodstock, with a goal of releasing 100,000 smolts from the hatchery for the first 10 years of the program. In order to ensure enough wild fish continue to spawn in the wild, hatchery managers will not capture more than 25 percent of the wild Chinook to use in their hatchery program, he added.

The hatchery will also continue to use about 240 hatchery Chinook to produce and release 350,000 hatchery smolts annually.

After the first five years, the hatchery stock will be discontinued, and will no longer be used to produce smolts. Instead, managers will begin using only the wild fish that were raised in the hatchery as broodstock, along with the wild stock, to release between 400,000 and 450,000 smolts for the next five years.

Ultimately, by 2035, the tribe hopes to have a robust program of new hatchery-born fish that originated from wild stock, and continue to integrate wild fish as broodstock to release some 800,000 smolts annually.

Another key part of the proposal is to recolonize the upper watershed above Castile Falls, which was historically a very productive area for spring Chinook, Frederiksen said.

And, the reform effort will include major upgrades to the Klickitat Hatchery, which has not been renovated since it was built. Key construction projects include upgrading a spring water intake and water transmission pipeline, building new circular rearing tanks with a river-water supply, rebuild a ladder trap, adult holding chambers and a spawning building, and reconfiguring a pollution abatement system.

The Bonneville Power Administration is proposing to fund those upgrades, with some funds committed under the Columbia Basin Fish Accords.

An environmental review is underway. The project was reviewed by the Independent Scientific Review Panel, and the Council determined that conditions in that review have been met. It will be briefed on the hatchery's final design and costs before construction begins.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.