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  • Methow River Steelhead hatchery reform research


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences


Methow River Steelhead
Methow River Steelhead hatchery reform research
Steelhead in Pacific Northwest hatcheries are typically reared for release as 1-year-old smolts, rather than the 2¬and 3-year-old smolt life history patterns found in nature. High growth rates associated with accelerated hatchery rearing to a 1-year-old smolt life history may contribute to maladaptive behavioral traits and reduced post-release survival, and may constitute a primary mechanism leading to reduced fitness in hatchery fish. This project provides for implementation and evaluation of major hatchery reforms identified for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Winthrop National Fish Hatchery (WNFH). The project combines hatchery-scale and laboratory scale research to investigate the effects of two growth regimes on i) post-release survival and behavior, ii) on maturation and residualism, iii) age-at-maturity, iv) epigenetic changes, and v) reproductive success of returning adults.

Research Themes

Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.

Research Foci

Develop methods to use physiological, biological and behavioral information to predict population-level processes
Understanding the biological processes occurring within organisms is a powerful way of understanding how environmental changes affect those organisms. Genetics, developmental, physiological and behavioral studies all provide important information for effective species recovery and rebuilding. Integrating this information into models is vital to predict how populations will respond to natural or human perturbations, and to assess the constraints to stock rebuilding efforts. For example, data on thermal tolerance and physiological responses to temperature can be used to explore changes caused by shifts in climate on reproductive behavior and productivity, viability, movement, habitat selection, and population dynamics. Similarly, data on contaminants that impact physiological processes (immune system, growth, development, reproduction, and general health) are critical in determining how these compounds affect population dynamics. Data on biological responses of organisms to ocean acidification are useful for understanding how acidification may affect individual development and survival. The NWFSC collects such information for several species that are of concern, targets of fisheries or otherwise important for overall ecosystem function. NWFSC scientists will continue to expand current efforts and develop methods to incorporate physiological, biological and behavioral data into population models in order to predict population-level processes from these individual level data.
Evaluate the effects of artificial propagation on recovery, rebuilding and sustainability of marine and anadromous species
Artificial propagation has the potential to provide benefits both to species recovery and to seafood sustainability. Artificial propagation also poses risks to wild species and ecosystems. In the past, the use of artificial propagation has been an important risk factor for several threatened and endangered species, particularly Pacific salmon. Assessing the effects of artificial propagation is complicated by the fact that programs vary widely in size, rearing practices, and goals. The NWFSC conducts critical research on the influence of artificial propagation on population dynamics, growth rate, ecology of infectious disease, and the evolutionary fitness of wild fish and other marine organisms. Results of this research are needed to support the recovery of fish populations and have been especially valuable in providing critical information for recent, larger scale habitat restoration activities such as the Elwha Dam removal. NWFSC will continue to conduct science that informs the discussion about whether to allow fish to recolonize naturally after barrier removal, or to supplement populations with hatchery fish and on the impacts of aquaculture on fishing pressure and practices, and on the surrounding environment and ecosystem.


Hatchery reform
Science to improve hatchery operations
Oncorhynchus mykiss
behavioral syndromes
research focus
domestication selection
research focus
research focus
research focus
research focus


None associated


Species Oncorhynchus mykiss
rainbow trout, steelhead trout, syeelhead trout


Barry Berejikian
Christopher Tatara
Donald Larsen
Jeffrey Atkins old
Jon Dickey
Mollie Middleton
Penny Swanson
Rob Endicott