Community points out flaws in hatchery plans

September 19, 2008

By David Hayes

A roomful of concerned community members left with more questions than answers Sept. 11 after representatives from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife tried to explain their plans for altering operations at the Tokul Creek Hatchery in Fall City.

In an effort to bolster the wild steelhead population in the Snoqualmie River, department officials want to essentially sequester the hatchery-raised steelhead away to the Skykomish River.

The crowd of more than 100 community members at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery were nearly in total agreement this was a bad idea that has not been thoroughly thought out, even those who agreed the wild steelhead population did need to be replenished.

The paramount local concern expressed was how those changes would affect staffing levels at the Issaquah hatchery. David Sprague, a member of the board of directors of the Friends of the Issaquah Hatchery, explained since the state made cutbacks to the Issaquah hatchery in the 1990s, Issaquah has only two full-time employees. It relies upon one of Tokul’s three staff members.

“Don’t change anything,” Sprague pleaded. “The state’s track record that I’ve seen, when it comes to these types of decisions, is worse than the Huskies.”

Representatives from the department admitted at the start of the meeting this is still a very preliminary stage of the decision-making process and that their cart is still literally ahead of the horse.

State Rep. Glenn Anderson, who lives in Fall City, attended the meeting, saying he is very concerned about the data the department is using.

“I didn’t see any validation for why this is necessary,” Anderson said. “The fact that the science is not resolved is a substantial issue.”

Anderson said he was also worried that the state Legislature would not have approved more than $400,000 in operating funds for the Tokul facility if it knew the department planned to significantly alter, or even eliminate, its operating levels.

“There are many unresolved issues here. Let’s not be in a rush to make a mistake,” Anderson added to thunderous applause from those in attendance.

Throughout the night, audience members pointed out many mistakes department officials have made in developing their plan, including:

  • Although they said public meetings had been held to take input to develop their initial plan, 100 percent in attendance said this was the first they’d heard of it.
  • The department failed to notify and get input from the Snoqualmie Indian tribe; rather, they consulted the Tulalip Tribe, several miles north, in Snohomish County.
  • No scientific study was undertaken to substantiate their concerns about the wild steelhead fish population or the effect of removing hatchery steelhead from the Snoqualmie River habitat.
  • No economic impact study was performed on the results of removing the source of so many local professional fishers, anglers and business owners.
  • Neglected to update its own steelhead advisory committee on plan changes.
  • Local fishermen contend there are no pure bred wild steelhead left in the river. They have all interbred with any other fish they came across, regardless whether they were raised in a hatchery or not.

Eileen Barber, Issaquah councilwoman and an active FISH member, said she came away from the meeting convinced the state did not have its ducks in a row.

“I came out, feeling stronger than ever, they don’t have the scientific data for this. They don’t have the research that actually says what they want to do will succeed,” Barber said. “Hopefully, they’ll follow through with all this input and come back with a better idea. Because once you lose a fish run, it won’t come back.”

Department representatives gave no indication when any plans would be altered or implemented.

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com.

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