Tribe takes helm at Dworshak hatchery

<text>The Nez Perce Tribe is taking control of all fish production responsibilities at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery starting next week.</text>

The Nez Perce Tribe is taking on sole responsibility for fish production and maintenance at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery next week, thereby expanding its role of managing salmon and steelhead in the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon river basins.

The tribe has been a co-manager at the hatchery for nearly 20 years and has a large footprint in anadromous fish production, management and recovery efforts.

“The Nez Perce Tribe has been looking forward to this transition for a long time,” said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of Nez Perce Tribal government. “As salmon people we have long been stewards of this land and have been committed to protecting our salmon. We are passionate and dedicated about restoring the runs and providing fish for ourselves and our neighbors, and as one of the largest producers of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin, we look forward to continuing to provide for the region.“

As a part of its 2004 settlement with the federal government and state of Idaho over water rights claim in the Snake River Basin, the tribe secured full management of Kooskia National Fish Hatchery and co-management status at Dworshak. A few years earlier, the tribe constructed its own hatchery at Cherrylane.

Under a new organizational regime, the hatchery at the mouth of the North Fork of the Clearwater River will continue to be owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and co-managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But the role of the tribe is expanding and the role of the Fish and Wildlife Service is shrinking.

“The roles and responsibilities have been modified so that the tribe is taking on the full responsibility of fish production and maintenance of the facility,” said Becky Johnson, production director of the Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resources Management.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will oversee fish health, monitoring and evaluation, and administration and financial oversight. Over the next two years, as Fish and Wildlife Service employees in fish production jobs retire or transfer, employees of the tribe will fill the open positions.

The Corps will own the hatchery and be responsible for some of its funding.

“The Nez Perce Tribe’s expertise in fisheries and environmental stewardship makes them an ideal partner to take on this increased role at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery,” Lt. Col. Richard Childers, commander of the corps’ Walla Walla District, said in a prepared statement. “The continued collaboration between the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nez Perce Tribe at Dworshak Hatchery demonstrates our strong Tribal-Federal partnership and we look forward to working with the Tribe in their new role.”

Johnson said the changes are a big deal and a milestone in the evolution of the Nez Perce fish production program, but won’t lead to a big shift from current operations.

“The tribe has had 50% or more of the employees growing the fish at the hatchery and taking care of the facility for quite a few years.”

The number of steelhead and spring chinook raised and released at the hatchery and the percentage of them that are marked as available for harvest by nontribal anglers by having their adipose fins removed will continue to be dictated by the U.S. vs. Oregon court settlement agreement. That means the same number of fish will be raised and released.

“There will be no difference in fish production,” Johnson said.

However, the tribe has been successful at expanding production at the Dworshak Hatchery and other hatcheries, and anglers have benefitted from the work. For example, the Nez Perce are responsible for both the popular fall chinook and coho fisheries upstream of Lower Granite Dam and recently boosted the output of spring chinook.

Johnson said the tribe had sought the role it will be assuming next week nearly 20 years ago as part of the Snake River Basin Adjudication settlement. But the federal government didn’t sign off on it then. Instead, the Nez Perce were given management authority over the Kooskia Hatchery and co-management at Dworshak. Since that time, more tribal youth have been recruited and trained in fish production and management.

“Back then 20, years ago, we were just beginning to grow our hatchery program,” said Johnson. Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery (Cherrylane) was constructed in 2002, we didn’t have a lot of folks trained up and in fish culture. Now we have a lot of staff — really good, capable staff to grow fish.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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