Ericksen save-the-whales bill puts emphasis on new salmon hatcheries

  • Promotes public-private investment in new Puget Sound hatcheries
  • Pilot project would be built in Bellingham
  • Best way to ensure adequate feedstock for Puget Sound orcas

OLYMPIA – A proposal from state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would leverage private investment in salmon hatcheries to help restore declining orca populations on Puget Sound.

Under Senate Bill 5824, the first new hatchery would go to Bellingham, testing the Alaska model for hatchery management in Washington state. In Alaska, hatcheries are largely self-funded by the sale of returning fish, and have helped make that state’s fisheries among the healthiest in the world.

The bill would direct the Department of Fish and Wildlife to pursue opportunities for private organizations to build and operate fish hatcheries, either independently or in partnership with the state. Washington’s existing hatcheries are operated directly by the state.

Ericksen, recently appointed to the state Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, said the new approach offers a way to harness the power of the marketplace for orca recovery. “One of the biggest problems we face is rebuilding salmon populations to provide feedstock for the orca. Improving our hatchery system is an important first step.

“Tearing down dams, major land grabs and land-use restrictions are not the answer. A more robust hatchery system not only would mean more food for orcas, but also more opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen, more tourism, and more good-paying jobs in our communities.”

Ericksen’s proposal embraces the Port of Bellingham’s plan to develop a new hatchery on a 237-acre site on the city’s waterfront. The bill would provide $42 million for the project.

The measure would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to report on prospects for building a fiscally sustainable hatchery system along the Alaska model. It also would require the department to establish a bounty system to encourage Washington residents to hunt sea lions and other predators that interfere with state goals for salmon recovery.