Frequently Asked Questions

Who called for California hatcheries to be reviewed?

The review was called for by the US Congress.

  • In 2010, Congress provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds to review California’s salmon and steelhead hatcheries
  • This followed similar reviews completed by other agencies in Puget Sound and coastal Washington (2004), and in the Columbia River Basin (2005).

What was the purpose of the hatchery review?

To evaluate salmon and steelhead hatchery programs and make recommendations for:

  • Improving the efficiency of hatchery operations
  • Reducing the impact of hatcheries on natural populations
  • Supporting commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries

Who conducted the hatchery review?

  • The hatchery review was completed by the California Hatchery Scientific Review Group (CA HSRG).
  • CA HSRG was composed of 11 members, six of whom are affiliated with agencies in California and five of whom were previously affiliated with resource agencies or who are university faculty. They were assisted by independent contractors that assembled data and facilitated meetings and field trips.
  • CA HSRG members provided substantial expertise and historical experience in hatchery operations, genetics, fishery management, monitoring, population dynamics, and fish health.

Which hatcheries were reviewed?

The following anadromous fish hatchery programs located in the Klamath-Trinity Basin and the Central Valley were reviewed:

  • Iron Gate Hatchery: Coho, Fall Chinook and Steelhead (Klamath River)
  • Trinity River Hatchery: Coho, Fall Chinook, Spring Chinook and Steelhead (Trinity River)
  • Nimbus Hatchery: Fall Chinook and Steelhead (American River)
  • Mokelumne Hatchery: Fall Chinook and Steelhead (Mokelumne River)
  • Merced Hatchery: Fall Chinook (Merced River)
  • Feather River Hatchery: Fall Chinook, Spring Chinook and Steelhead (Feather River)
  • Coleman National Fish Hatchery: Fall Chinook, Late-fall Chinook and Steelhead (Battle Creek)
  • Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery: Winter Chinook (Sacramento River)

What basic principles helped guide the review?

Each hatchery program was reviewed to determine whether it:

  • Has a specific purpose with identifiable and measurable goals
  • Is being operated in a scientifically defensible manner
  • Uses informed decision making and adaptive management

How was the hatchery review conducted?

Review criteria were developed, including:

  • Guiding principles for hatchery management
  • Best Hatchery Management Practices
  • Statewide standards and guidelines for operating hatchery programs

Hatchery-specific operational and biological information was reviewed

  • Facilities were toured and operators interviewed
  • Hatchery program and population reports developed by contractors were reviewed

Data were analyzed and conclusions discussed by CA HSRG members

  • Pertinent literature was reviewed
  • Ideas and information were shared in group meetings
  • Individual professional experience contributed to conclusions

What major hatchery problems or issues were identified?

The CA HSRG identified 14 major problems/issues:

  1. Serious loss and degradation of habitat limits natural production of salmon and steelhead in California.
  2. Hatchery program goals have been consistently expressed in terms of juvenile production rather than adult production.
  3. Program purposes have not been clearly defined.
  4. Hatchery monitoring and evaluation programs and Hatchery Coordination Teams are needed.
  5. Program size has been set independent of any consideration of potential impacts of hatchery fish on affected natural populations.
  6. Off-site releases promote unacceptable levels of straying among populations.
  7. Marking/tagging programs are needed for real-time identification of all hatchery-origin Chinook salmon returning to hatchery facilities.
  8. Standards for fish culture, fish health management and associated reporting are inadequate and need to be improved.
  9. Populations and population boundaries have not been established for non-listed species and are needed for effective development of integrated hatchery programs.
  10. Harvest management of Sacramento River Fall Chinook should account for the productivity of naturally-spawning adults.
  11. Several steelhead programs have seriously underperformed.
  12. Adults returning from “yearling” releases of hatchery fall Chinook salmon should be excluded from broodstock.
  13. True “1:1 matings” and associated incubation protocols need to be adopted by California steelhead and salmon hatcheries.
  14. Effective methods are needed to ensure maintenance of distinct runs of Chinook salmon reared at the same facility.

What type of standards and guidelines for operating hatchery programs were developed?

The CA HSRG developed standards and guidelines for:

  • Broodstock management to guide the selection of fish for broodstock
  • Program size and release strategies to help determine program production goals and manner of release
  • Incubation, rearing and fish health management to guide hatchery operations following broodstock spawning
  • Monitoring and evaluation (including marking/tagging programs) to determine the performance and impacts of hatchery fish
  • Assessing the effects of hatchery operations on local habitats, aquatic and terrestrial species

What are the expected outcomes from implementing these standards and guidelines?

  • Reduction in the domestication of hatchery fish
  • Reduction in the negative impacts of hatchery fish on natural spawning populations
  • Improved prospects for the long-term successful coexistence of hatchery and natural fish

What targets were recommended for the proportion of natural-origin fish in hatchery broodstock (pNOB) and for the allowable proportions of hatchery-origin fish in natural spawning areas (pHOS)?

The CA HSRG recommended:

  • The proportion of natural-origin fish in hatchery broodstock (pNOB) must be no less than 10%
  • The proportion of hatchery-origin fish in natural spawning areas (pHOS) should almost always be less than the proportion of natural-origin fish in hatchery broodstock (pNOB)
  • In natural spawning areas outside the integrated hatchery program population boundary, the proportion of hatchery-origin fish in natural spawning areas (pHOS) must be < 5%.  For example, non-Merced River hatchery-origin fall Chinook spawning in the Merced River should be less than 5%.
  • The proportion of hatchery-origin fish in natural spawning areas (pHOS) for conservation-oriented programs (reintroduction or supplementation) may be higher than 5%

What are Segregated vs. Integrated hatchery programs?

  • Previous HSRG work proposed that hatcheries could be either “segregated” (genetically segregated from the local natural populations) or “integrated” (genetically integrated with a local natural population)
  • The CA HSRG believes that maintaining genetic segregation of hatchery and natural populations cannot be feasibly achieved. Therefore, the CA HSRG does not believe the “segregated hatchery program” concept is useful in practice and did not recommend any California hatchery programs be operated as a “segregated program”

What is the purpose of an Integrated Hatchery Program?

  • To Increase abundance and contribute to fisheries while minimizing genetic divergence of the hatchery broodstock from the local natural population
  • Maintains the genetic and life history characteristics of the local, natural population within the hatchery program fish by minimizing the genetic effects of domestication

Why should hatchery fish be marked and tagged?

There are a variety of reasons to mark or tag fish.  In general, marking with external fin clip or similar mark allows for easy, visual determination of the origin of a fish, either natural or hatchery, at hatchery facilities, in fisheries, in spawning areas, etc.  Tagging by insertion of coded wire tags, acoustic tags, or other external tags provides a means of gathering additional information, such as hatchery of origin, release site, release type, study group, run-type, age, etc.  As opposed to visual marks, tags are not normally able to be detected or read without additional handling or special equipment.   The CA HSRG’s recommendations regarding marking and tagging focus on the need to identify hatchery-origin fish at hatchery facilities.

What marking/tagging programs were proposed?

  • Chinook salmon (most hatcheries and runs): 100% tagged with coded-wire tags (CWT) + 25% marked with adipose fin clip
  • Steelhead: 100% adipose fin clip, and adoption of parentage-based tagging (via genotyping of all spawned adults)
  • Coho salmon (Iron Gate and Trinity River hatcheries): 100% external mark (not adipose fin clip) that allows identification of fish originating from the two hatcheries

What are the marking/tagging programs designed to achieve?

  • All programs:  To allow real-time identification (visual or electronic) of all hatchery-origin fish at hatchery facilities and while monitoring natural fish populations
  • Fall and Spring Chinook:  To allow identification of stock of origin of all hatchery fish used as broodstock to facilitate elimination of out-of-sub basin hatchery fish from broodstock, and to ensure maintenance of distinct runs within a hatchery
  • Steelhead: To support mark-selective freshwater fisheries targeting adipose fin-clipped fish, and to allow exclusion of out-of-basin-derived hatchery adults from broodstock
  • Coho: To prevent incorporation of Trinity River Hatchery fish in Iron Gate Hatchery broodstock (and vice versa), and to prevent unintentional harvest of these ESA-listed stocks in ocean mark-selective fisheries

  • Winter Chinook: To be compatible with (and not compromise) the existing 100% CWT + adipose fin clip marking/tagging of this ESA-endangered population

Will the proposed marking/tagging programs support mark-selective fisheries?

  • Chinook: No (same as for the existing program). The CA HSRG was not charged with making recommendations regarding the establishment of mark-selective fisheries, nor were members of the CA HSRG able to reach consensus regarding mark-selective fisheries in California.  The proposed marking programs are not intended to promote mark-selective fisheries.

  • Steelhead: Yes (same as for the existing program)

  • Coho salmon: No (same as for the existing program)

Why is it recommended that hatchery fish no longer be released off-site?

A hatchery-origin fish that does not return to its hatchery of origin (or nearby natural spawning area) is termed a “stray”.  Evidence from the Central Valley shows fish released off-site have demonstrably higher stray rates than fish released on-site or near the hatchery, and stray hatchery fish are now present in all Central Valley tributaries. Increased straying of hatchery fish and the resultant interbreeding with natural fish can reduce the fitness of both hatchery and natural populations, resulting in decreased population productivity, abundance, and diversity.

How can the hatchery recommendations be successfully implemented?

The CA HSRG made seven implementation recommendations:

  1. Implement regular programmatic performance reviews of each hatchery program.
  2. Follow the CA HSRG recommendations regarding the preparation and review of Hatchery Genetic Management Plans, and provide the necessary resources for monitoring and evaluation.
  3. Hatchery program funding agencies should adopt the HSRG standards and guidelines as a basis for future funding and accountability of the program.
  4. Staff with specific highly technical expertise (e.g., fish health specialists) should be tasked with addressing specific highly technical issues in California hatcheries.
  5. Develop standardized, statewide monitoring and evaluation protocols based on the CA HSRG standards and guidelines.
  6. Extend the review to include California coastal basin hatcheries (Warm Springs and Mad River).
  7. Develop publicly accessible website to house the CA HSRG reports.

What additional research is needed to better manage California hatcheries?

The CA HSRG identified the following research needs:

  • Identify populations and delineate population boundaries with which hatcheries should be integrated
  • Determine relative reproductive success of hatchery- and natural-origin salmonids spawning naturally
  • Assess ecological effects of hatchery-origin fish on naturally spawning populations
  • Investigate development of anadromy in landlocked O. mykiss
  • Research potential uses and limitations of parentage based tagging
  • Assess long-term changes in productivity of naturally spawning populations of anadromous salmonids under continuing hatchery supplementation
  • Investigate causes of decline in returns of anadromous fish in steelhead programs
  • Investigate hatchery domestication selection and develop mitigation strategies
  • Develop adaptive framework for habitat carrying capacity and production goals
  • Determine the effects of hatchery spawning and mating protocols on age distribution