Tribe gets go-ahead on new hatchery
December 7, 2012
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council on
Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the Kootenai Tribe
of Idaho to proceed with final design and begin
construction on a $16.2 million project to
upgrade an existing white sturgeon hatchery at
Bonners Ferry, and build a new hatchery upstream
to support both sturgeon and burbot restoration
The Boundary County Planning and Zoning
Commission unanimously approved the tribe's
conditional use permit application to build the
new hatchery at Twin Rivers Canyon Resort
The Council recommendation was made on the
conditions that “Bonneville Power Administration
and the Tribe providing to the Council the final
costs, not to exceed $16.6 million, and
confirmation of base upgrades and new facilities
associated with the Kootenai River Native Fish
Conservation Aquaculture Program, and confirm
the out-year costs associated with O&M and M&E
prior to construction.”
Both Sue Ireland, director of the tribe’s Fish
and Wildlife Program, and BPA Integrated Fish
and Wildlife Program Director Bill Maslen,
assured the Council those numbers would be
forthcoming. Ireland said the tribe plans to
begin construction this spring.
Maslen said that BPA “wanted to affirm our
commitment” to the project.
“We will work that out,” he said of the final
budget details. The Council reviews fish and
wildlife projects that are proposed for funding.
Bonneville, which markets power generated in the
federal Columbia/Snake river hydro system, funds
projects as mitigation for impacts resulting
from the construction and operation of the 31
dams in the Federal Columbia River Power System.
In this case, much of the sturgeon work is
mitigation for northwest Montana’s Libby Dam,
which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. Habitat degradation and other factors
have also contributed to the decline of Kootenai
River native fish species such as the white
sturgeon and burbot.
Both species have historically been vital to the
Kootenai Tribes existence.
“But right now the Kootenai Tribes does not
access either of these species for subsistence
purposes,” Ireland said.
White sturgeon are the largest U.S. freshwater
fish and can live 100 years. Burbot are the only
freshwater members of the cod family. Declining
populations of Kootenai River white sturgeon
forced their 1994 listing as endangered under
the Endangered Species Act. Burbot numbers have
declined drastically, to as few as 50, but the
Kootenai population is not listed.
Biologists say that there has been virtually no
natural recruitment into the wild adult sturgeon
population for the past 50 years. The remaining
fish – an estimated 1,000 in a 167-mile stretch
of the river – spawn, but few if any of their
progeny lives and grows.
“The next generation of sturgeon will be
entirely from the hatchery,” Ireland said. To
ward off extinction the tribe in 1988 proposed
experimental sturgeon studies and aquaculture
program. The Bonners Ferry facility was
constructed in 1989 and, by mining eggs and milt
from remaining wild fish, the first hatchery
fish were produced in 1991. A certain number of
the big fish are captured each year, spawned and
released back into the river. The Kootenai
female sturgeon are believed to spawn on average
about once every five years.
The first large-scale release of young sturgeon
took place in 2000 and have continued ever
since. More than 200,000 hatchery sturgeon have
been released, and the tribes have witnessed
strong survival. The hope is that they will
eventually grow to reproductive maturity – which
takes about 30 years. In the meantime, the tribe
is working on numerous habitat restoration
projects aimed at improving spawning and
But for now the existing sturgeon hatchery is
bursting at the seams, and the tribe and its
biologists have a dream of successful artificial
propagation of burbot, and eventual restoration
of a sustainable, wild population.
The two-year construction project includes
upgrades to the existing tribal sturgeon
hatchery that allow improved broodstock
handling, provide safety and efficiency and
Because there is no space to expand at the
existing hatchery, a new hatchery – Twin Rivers
– will be built about 10 miles upstream at the
Kootenai’s confluence with the Moyie River. That
will allow the expansion of the sturgeon program
to meet both near- and long-term objectives.
The additional hatchery space will allow the
collection of more wild broodstock while they
are still available. The wild adult population
The tribe plans to increase rearing capacity for
age 1-plus fish at temperatures and densities
that optimize survival and improve fish health
(reduce density-related disease).
The new hatchery will allow movement into a
third phase of the tribe’s burbot restoration
plan. The tribe in recent years has been working
with the University of Idaho on the development
of hatchery techniques for the spawning,
incubation and rearing of burbot.
Phase 2 is ongoing too and involves experimental
releases and research to evaluate burbot
distribution, movement, habitat use, food
habitats and sampling methods by life stage.
Phase 3 calls for larger production via
construction of the hatchery to reestablish
populations in the river. The Kootenai Tribe
envisions ultimately reaching a Phase 4 – the
existence of a self-sustaining population.
The NPCC’s three-step review process for the
proposed hatchery upgrade and new facility
construction began in 2007. It passed a big
hurdle Sept. 28 with a shining endorsement from
the Independent Scientific Review Panel.
“In sum, the ISRP notes that the sponsors have
established objectives for the focal species;
appreciate the need for an ecosystem level
perspective in the restoration of sturgeon and
burbot; have incorporated concepts from the ISAB
food web report, and the ISRP recommendations
for modeling capacity; and designed artificial
production programs of limited scale that
recognize the uncertainties of restoration,”
according to the ISRP review of the project.
“Based on the documentation provided, the ISRP
finds that the sponsors did a very good job of
technically justifying and detailing their
sturgeon and burbot programs. The ISRP
recommends that the programs meet Step 2
requirements and can proceed to Step 3,” the
The Council took that step this week.
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