Monday, February 7, 2011

USFWS Presents Its “Mitchell Act Message” at the First Annual Mitchell Act Program Review Meeting

A number of Columbia River Fisheries Program Office staff attended and participated in a two-day conference at the Portland Double Tree Hotel on January 18 and 19, 2011 to highlight the efforts of the USFWS in conducting its Mitchell Act funded programs. The Mitchell Act was initiated in 1938 and is administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to provide fishery mitigation for Columbia River Basin development, especially hydro-system development, and to help conserve Columbia River salmon and steelhead resources. The Mitchell Act program provides funding in three major program areas: hatchery operations; fish screens and fish ways; and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and hatchery reform. The funding, although administered by NMFS, is distributed to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the USFWS to implement program actions.

The two-day conference on January 18 and 19 was billed as the first annual meeting program review, at least first in recent history, to provide Mitchell Act operators the opportunity to highlight their programs and explain how the Mitchell Act funding they receive is being used to address the goals and objectives of the program. The conference was attended by 80 - 100 agency and tribal staff representatives and presenters and by interested public. NMFS hosted the conference and indicated their desire to make this an annual event for the future that can be used to help set and reshape program direction and help give guidance for future funding decisions for the Mitchell Act program.

A common theme by all agency and tribal representatives that gave presentations was that the Mitchell Act program is a very important program that provides substantial fishing opportunity and fishery benefits to the Pacific Northwest region, as well as fish conservation benefits in the Columbia River Basin. However, there was broad recognition that limited funding has definitely strained the ability of the program to continue to provide these critical benefits. Flat funding since the mid-1990s, reduced buying power for current funding, escalating costs for current program activities, and a whole new set of Endangered Species Act (ESA) driven fishery and hatchery management constraints and costs have definitely taken their toll on program implementation. Program operators have responded by cutting and/or reducing Mitchell Act hatchery production programs in some instances, seeking alternate and/or cost share funding, and prioritizing activities that are most critical to program implementation and program results.

The USFWS made five presentations on the second day of the conference that highlighted its Mitchell Act programs and allowed the Service to “tell its Mitchell Act story”. These five presentations included 1) a general but comprehensive overview of its Mitchell Act hatchery production program, baseline M&E program, fish health program, Abernathy Fish Technology Center (AFTC) program, and newly expanded M&E and hatchery reform program, 2) a focused fish marking, tagging, and bio-sampling program presentation, 3) a focused fish health program presentation, 4) a presentation on recent Eagle Creek winter steelhead and coho ecological interaction studies, and 5) a presentation on recent Gorge area fall Chinook investigations and pre-Condit Dam removal activities in the Big White salmon River. All of these presentations were applauded for their high quality and vivid demonstration of the critical benefits that these USFWS Mitchell Act production programs and M&E programs bring to the Pacific Northwest region for sustainable fisheries and fish conservation.

The USFWS acknowledges the critical nature of the Mitchell Act production program to meeting tribal trust responsibilities; honoring the current 2008-2017 U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement; meeting Pacific Salmon Treaty production expectations; and meeting other social, economic, and cultural needs and thus has done all that it can within overall budget constraints to maintain these important programs. The USFWS has also been very proactive to implement a number of fish conservation and hatchery reform actions and to expand its M&E programs for its Mitchell Act funded facilities as recommended by recent Hatchery and Scientific Review Group (HSRG) and Hatchery Review Team (HRT) reviews. The challenge is to manage our programs in such a way that they continue to provide the fishery benefits anticipated under the original purpose of the Mitchell Act program while also addressing other biological and legal management constraints on our management actions such as ESA compliance and implementation of hatchery biological opinion terms and conditions.

The USFWS is very proud of its Mitchell Act program efforts and believes its program can best be described as: Quality Stewardship Mitigation for the 21st Century. The USFWS continues to work together with its Columbia River co-manager partners to improve the overall Mitchell Act program and thereby provide the benefits anticipated and honor its promise to the Columbia River Tribes and the American public for continued harvest opportunity, even in the midst of very significant funding and ESA listing and recovery challenges. All of the USFWS powerpoint presentations and those by other agency and tribal presenters will soon be available for viewing at the NMFS webpage for their Mitchell Act program: which is currently being restructured. Readers are encouraged to link to this webpage for further information on the Mitchell Act program and its benefits to the Pacific Northwest region.

Submitted by: Tim W. Roth

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