HATCHERY CONTRACTS ARE UP FOR REFUNDING
July 2, 2018
Budget shortfalls could end McKenzie trout planting in 2019
“The people of Oregon have had that mitigation for a long time. It drives a lot of the fisheries we have in the Valley,” according to Jeff Ziller, an Oregon Dept, of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) fish biologist based in Springfield.
“While we look forward to the day that healthy, harvestable wild populations of salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout do their part to support the communities and economy of the Willamette Valley, we are a long way from that and expect the Corps to fulfill their historic mitigation responsibilities.” That second quote is part of a letter Oregon’s Congressional delegation sent the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers last week.
The Corps has been responsible for mitigating the impact of federal dams on habitat and fish species since 1951. Overseeing seven fish hatcheries in the Columbia, Willamette and Rogue River basins, the Corps has worked with ODFW to fund and operate the hatcheries.
Under the fish mitigation agreements, the Corps was committed to producing 749,800 pounds of hatchery fish annually for lost natural production of spring Chinook, winter steelhead and rainbow trout due to the Willamette Valley dam building projects. Some 277,000 pounds of that amount was earmarked for hatchery trout production.
“The Corps is saying at this point that they only have funding for 100,000 pounds of trout in 2019,” according to Bruce McIntosh, ODFW’s Deputy Fish Division Administrator. “Their mitigation requirement is 277,000 pounds,” he added, noting that, “They continue to look for additional funding to support the full program, but must commit by July 1st for next year. If they stick with the 100,000 pounds, trout stocking in the Willamette Valley will drop by 42% in 2019 and no trout would be stocked in the McKenzie River.”
Contacted by phone as we went to press on Tuesday, Corps spokeswoman Sarah Bennett confirmed those figures. “The team is meeting this afternoon seeking funds,” she said. “The status of the contract now is we have authorized production of 100,000 pounds of fish from Desert Springs (the Central Oregon fish hatchery that was awarded the contract last year).”
Bennett also said the agreement with Desert Springs was for a four-year contract period. “We will determine the mitigation amount based on a variety of factors - one of which is funding,” she said. Unlike last year, the contract was not released for competitive bidding.
The uncertainty may affect the numbers of hatchery produced salmon and could impact the rearing and release of steelhead next year.
“This comes under the Corps contract and the McKenzie is not part of the minimum package of 100,000 pounds,” according to McIntosh. “They are also telling us they do not have enough funding for the salmon and steelhead contracts with us, but have until September to find the necessary funding. They haven’t told us how short they are or what they might do.”
The letter from the Oregon delegation was signed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as members of Congress Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden, Earl Blumenauer and Susan Bonamici. It echoed those sort of concerns. Among issues they felt needing clarification was that if the contract didn’t meet the 277,000 pound production level, what the reasons were. They also asked for more information on the status of funding for the salmon and steelhead programs, when they would be up for renewal and if the Corps would meet production levels at the amount historically supported for the Upper Willamette Basin.
Image: ODFW. Fish egg harvesting was among long-time annual activities at the Leaburg Trout Hatchery.
McKenzie River Reflections