Fish lovers and community boosters in East Pierce County have taken a big step in making sure the fish hatchery on Clarks Creek will remain a community asset for years to come.
The “Save our Puyallup Hatchery” effort that started up this spring with the news that the state Fish and Wildlife Department was in negotiations to lease the aging hatchery to a for-profit seafood company has formally established a non-profit group to keep the fish ponds in public hands.
The Puyallup Historical Hatchery Foundation formed this month with the task of raising money and support to operate the trout hatchery that sits along the Clarks Creek tributary of the Puyallup River. Plans are in the works to gather interest groups that include Puyallup School District, university environmental programs linked to Washington State University and University of Washington, naturalists, fishing groups, historical groups, the Puyallup Tribe, state and local officials as well as volunteers. Their goal is to piece together an operational plan so that the hatchery stays open, productive and remains an educational center for surrounding school groups as the state seeks ways to trim costs however it can while budgets continue to get slashed in the down economy.
“We have got a lot of energy,” Puyallup City Council member and effort organizer Steve Vermillion said.
The general concept of the foundation is to mirror a similar effort in Issaquah, which is known for its Salmon Days activities each year and the nonprofit group that organizes the effort. The specifics of how ownership or operations of the hatchery trout raising are all in the works as the foundation steps out of its organizational phase to one of public outreach.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has backed away from lease talks with Portland-based Pacific Seafood following the initial public outcry and is now letting the newly formed foundation explore options. No timeline has been established but the state is clearly eager to shed costs where it can through partnerships in the works for Clarks Creek.
The hatchery produces some 270,000 trout each year that are then released into sport fishing lakes around Puget Sound. But the 66-year-old facility needs about $2 million in renovations at a time when budgets are tight. One effort to fund those renovations involves seeking national, state and local designation of the hatchery as a historical landmark, which could boost its chances of getting grant dollars. Foundation volunteers are working on filing paperwork on those fronts.
Educational partners are also being sought to formalize programs that already exist in the form of school fieldtrips and student outings to the hatchery. That leaves the last question – who will actually operate the hatchery – unanswered. The Puyallup Tribe seems a natural partner, Republican 25th District Legislator Bruce Dammeier said.
“The tribe has the most expertise,” he said. “They would be a natural partner for the operational side of things.”
Earlier this year the Puyallup Tribe had sought to buy or lease the hatchery to produce steelhead and Chinook instead of trout, and has expressed interest in working with the state or community groups to see if a partnership could be found. The state, however, had already turned down the tribe’s proposal because wildlife officials wanted the hatchery for trout production. The state is obligated under a 1989 agreement with the tribe to find ways to boost steelhead production on the river.