FISH holds steady in 2010, but challenges remain

January 18, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Memberships buoyed Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and helped the nonprofit organization finish in the black for 2010, but challenges exist in the year ahead.

The organization experienced a 27 percent increase in funds due to more memberships last year. Employees reined in expenses and FISH finished about 5 percent under budget estimates for the year. The steps helped to offset a drop in legacy donations last year.

FISH also relies on grant dollars from Issaquah and Sammamish.

Issaquah provides grant dollars to the organization each year, but FISH has lacked a key source of funding since cash-strapped King County dropped funding for the organization last year. FISH used a $23,750 grant from Issaquah to fund operations last year.

“We really count 2010 as a successful year, considering the number of local nonprofits that either had to close or make cuts because of the dire state of the economy,” FISH Executive Director Gestin Suttle said in a monthly update to members released Jan. 7.

The organization is responsible for conducting educational tours at the state-operated Issaquah Salmon Hatchery during fall salmon runs and the Salmon Days Festival. FISH members also assist in annual salmon-spawning activities and other programs.

King County used to contribute about one-third of the funds used for operations. The county allocated $25,000 to FISH in 2008, and then cut the amount to $15,000 the following year. The county did not steer any dollars to FISH last year, and future funding also seems unlikely.

“Just like everyone, we’re trying to do more with less,” Suttle said in a follow-up interview.

FISH relies on corporate support, too, including dollars from heavyweights such as Microsoft, Waste Management and the Puget Sound Energy Foundation. Kiwanis Club of Issaquah members also offer key support to the organization.

“I thank the people whose support and generosity make FISH’s work possible,” Ava Frisinger, FISH board president and Issaquah mayor, said in the update. “We are fortunate, indeed.”

The state budget crisis could also impact the hatchery. Legislators gathered in Olympia on Jan. 10 for the 105-day session. The state faces a $4.6 billion hole in the 2011-13 budget.

The hatchery is part of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency and dozens of others face deep cuts as legislators attempt to close the budget gap.

The hatchery hires a temporary worker to assist in salmon rearing, but the state has not yet authorized the position. In addition, the hatchery staff faces monthly furlough days through early 2011.

“There is no doubt that FISH is going to have to weather more budget storms in 2011,” Suttle said in the update. “We are again going to tighten our belts, look for even more efficiencies and continue to offer high value for our donors. It’s as important as ever that we are able to provide our educational services to visitors, especially as so many other programs in the community and throughout the state face elimination.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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