HSRG Background

The US Congress funded the Hatchery Reform Project via annual appropriation to the US Fish and Wildlife Service beginning in fiscal year 2000 because it recognized that while hatcheries play a necessary role in meeting harvest and conservation goals for Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead, the hatchery system was in need of comprehensive reform. With many species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), conservation of salmon was a high priority and many hatchery programs “as currently operated” were contributing to the risks those stocks were facing.

Central to the project was the creation of an independent scientific review panel called the Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG). The HSRG was initially charged with reviewing all state, tribal and federal hatchery programs in Puget Sound and Coastal Washington, as part of a comprehensive hatchery reform effort to:

  • Conserve indigenous salmonid genetic resources
  • Assist with the recovery of naturally spawning salmonid populations
  • Provide sustainable fisheries
  • Improve the quality and cost effectiveness of hatchery programs.

HSRG Principles

Three principles emerged early in the HSRG’s review and served as guidance for the development of recommendations for hatchery reform. These principles provide a method of incorporating the best available science into policy decisions about the design and operation of hatcheries.

Principle 1: Develop Clear, Specific, Quantifiable Harvest and Conservation Goals for Natural and Hatchery Populations within an “All H” Context.

Principle 2: Design and Operate Hatchery Programs in a Scientifically Defensible Manner.

Principle 3: Monitor, Evaluate and Adaptively Manage Hatchery Programs.

The HSRG’s three principles are associated with 17 recommendations, which were updated in the HSRG’s 2015 Report to Congress. The process of reviewing these recommendations periodically to ensure consistency with new science as it emerges is consistent with Principle 3, which recommends that all hatchery programs should be managed adaptively as new information becomes available.

HSRG Reviews

The HSRG has completed comprehensive reviews of hatchery programs in the Puget Sound, Coastal Washington, and Columbia River Basin.

Puget Sound and Coastal Washington

The HSRG worked closely with the state, tribal and federal managers of the hatchery system, with facilitation provided by the non-profit organization Long Live the Kings and the law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, to successfully complete reviews of over 200 hatchery programs at more than 100 hatcheries across western Washington. That phase of the project culminated in 2004 with the publication of reports containing the HSRG’s principles for hatchery reform and recommendations for Puget Sound/Coastal Washington hatchery programs, followed by the development in 2005 of a suite of analytical tools to support application of the principles.

Columbia River Basin

In 2005, Congress directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) to replicate the project in the Lower Columbia River Basin. The scope was then expanded to include the entire Columbia River Basin, with additional funding provided by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) under the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s (NPCC) Fish and Wildlife Program.

The objective of the HSRG’s Columbia River Basin review was to change the focus of the Columbia River hatchery system. In the past, hatchery programs have been aimed at supplying fish for harvest, primarily as mitigation for hydropower development in the Basin. Hatchery reform takes new, ecosystem-based approach founded on the idea that harvest goals are sustainable only if they are compatible with conservation goals. The challenge before the HSRG was to determine whether conservation and harvest goals could be met by fishery managers and, if so, how. The HSRG determined that in order to address these twin goals, both hatchery and harvest reforms are necessary.