LOWER ELWHA (Feb. 7, 2002) — Just when the legendary Elwha chinook were ready again to make their famous run into the Olympic Mountains, they may be snuffed out by bureaucratic budget cutting. Under an across the board 15 percent budget cut ordered by Governor Gary Locke, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has suggested closing the Sol Duc hatchery, where four million Elwha chinook broodstock are raised annually.
“Closing that hatchery would severely limit our chances of recovering these amazing fish,” said Pat Crain, Lower Elwha Fisheries Manager. Elwha chinook are one of the Puget Sound chinook stocks listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and are also legendary in that they typically reached over 100 pounds at maturity.
In fact, closure of the Sol Duc Hatchery may be illegal under the Endangered Species Act, said Crain. Under the Endangered Species Act, harming a listed species is considered a taking. Closing the Sol Duc hatchery, without continuing the existing production of Elwha chinook at another facility would be a “taking” under federal law.
“There is nowhere else I know of, other than the Sol Duc hatchery, that the State can raise these chinook,” said Crain. Egg incubators are limited at the State facility on the Elwha River, and the next closest hatchery on the Dungeness River is already dedicated to its own chinook broodstock program. That leaves the Sol Duc hatchery, with its pathogen free water, as the only nearby hatchery that can raise threatened Elwha chinook.
“In order to protect against disease transfers between river basins, there are very strict rules governing how fish must be raised if they are going to be moved,” said Larry Ward, Hatchery Manager for the Elwha Tribe. “When transferring between fish health zones, the fish must be certified disease free, either through testing of each fish or through rearing of the fish in pathogen free water.”
Every year, WDF&W staff captures hundreds of Elwha chinook in the river and spawn them at the Elwha Rearing Channel, located on the Elwha River. Their eggs are then taken to the Sol Duc facility where they are raised to the pre-smolt stage, before then being transferred back to the Elwha Rearing Channel for final rearing and release in the river. “The Elwha chinook broodstock program is the genetic lifeline for this amazing fish,” said Crain.