NOAA plan released for Columbia River hatcheries

PORTLAND — A federal agency is recommending continued operation of hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin, with focus on programs that minimize risks to wild salmon and steelhead.

The recommendation is part of a hatchery management plan by NOAA Fisheries released Thursday.

The hatcheries are funded under the Mitchell Act, which provides federal dollars for fish conservation in the Columbia Basin. Congress sets the level of funding, which has ranged from $10 million to $13 million annually over the past decade. NOAA distributes the money.

When the plan’s draft was released in 2010, it was controversial because it included scenarios that could lead to cutting hatchery production.

The West Coast has relied on hatcheries for over a century to rebuild dwindling fish runs, but studies show artificial breeding can harm wild fish.

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