BLYN (Feb. 14, 2003) — In the mid-1990s, fisheries biologists throughout the Pacific Northwest turned their attention on a small hatchery in the lower Dungeness River, where a new approach to restoring a dwindling chinook population was in the works. If successful, it was thought the project could improve hatchery techniques, and most importantly bring back a salmon species from the brink of extinction.

In 2003, attention once again has turned to the Hurd Creek hatchery near Sequim. Not because of the facility’s success with recovering wild salmon, but because the hatchery itself is close to extinction. Gov. Gary Locke’s proposed budget for the next two years calls for three state Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries to be closed, including the Hurd Creek facility.

Halting operations at the hatchery would eliminate programs aimed at restoring Dungeness spring chinook, Elwha fall chinook, Salmon Creek summer chum and Jimmeycomelately summer chum. All are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, and their survival relies heavily on the hatchery.

“The Hurd Creek hatchery is a must-have if we are going to continue to restore salmon in the Dungeness and other rivers throughout the area,” said Ann Seiter, natural resources director for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The tribe provides technical assistance at the hatchery. “Without this hatchery we would be severely restricted in what projects we could do for salmon restoration. Now is not the time to shut it down.”

Hurd Creek’s spring chinook program, the project that made news in the mid-’90s, is a unique approach to raising salmon for restoration purposes. Instead of simply catching adult chinook and randomly mixing their eggs and sperm, the reproduction process at the hatchery is much more selective. Beginning in 1993, eggs and young fry were taken from spawning nests, or redds, in the Dungeness River. The eggs from each redd were incubated separately, and each family of salmon produced from those redds are grown in separate tanks. The next generations of chinook are spawned from those fish once they have matured. The idea is to ensure members of a family are spawned from members of other families and that siblings are not spawned together, producing a stronger genetic mix of juvenile fish released into the river. That improves the long-term health of the population and increases the stocks’ chances of survival.

“The goal of this captive broodstock program is to increase the size of chinook salmon spawning populations,” said Scott Chitwood, fisheries manager for the tribe. “And that has largely been a successful program. There has been an increase in the number of salmon returning and in the number of salmon spawning in each of the last three years. Yet just when we are starting to see results, there is a possibility the operation will be shut down.”

Another unique aspect of the Hurd Creek hatchery is its water source. Unlike chilly Dungeness River water, the facility is supplied by groundwater that remains very near 48 degrees year-round, ideal for spawning and rearing fish. The water also is generally free of many pathogens commonly found in river water, which can hamper fish production.

The hatchery incubates and raises salmon for other important restoration programs in the area. More than 4 million Elwha River fall chinook eggs are fertilized and incubated to the eyed stage at the hatchery, before being transferred to the Sol Duc hatchery to continue growing. Hurd Creek is key to the survival of that run because the Elwha hatchery lacks the necessary incubation facilities.

Summer chum restoration programs for Jimmeycomelately and Salmon creeks also are conducted at the Hurd Creek hatchery. About 300,000 eggs are fertilized and incubated at the facility, and later released into the two streams. The hatchery also supports a Dungeness hatchery steelhead release and a pink salmon restoration program, along with a Snow Creek coho restoration program.

“With its water source and ability to handle all these important restoration projects, it’s clear that we need the Hurd Creek hatchery if we are going to continue rebuilding stocks on the north Olympic Peninsula,” Chitwood said. “The cost of creating the necessary environment at other nearby hatcheries to continue these operations would far exceed the savings from shutting down operations at Hurd Creek. And not continuing these operations would ruin restoration efforts for these fish.”

For more information, contact: Ann Seiter, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe natural resources director, (360) 683-1109. Scott Chitwood, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe fisheries manager, (360) 683-1109. Darren Friedel, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.