Merkley Leads Oregon Delegation Push for the USACE to Fully Funded Fish Hatchery Production in the Willamette Basin

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley led members of the Oregon delegation, Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Val Hoyle (OR-04), Andrea Salinas (OR-06), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05), in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) urging the agency’s Portland District to prioritize hatchery fish production, as well as ensure that the USACE can request the full necessary funding for the Willamette Valley System (WVS) in the upcoming budget seasons.

The lawmakers sent a letter to USACE Lt. Director Scott Spellmon and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jaime Pinkham last month, after it came to their attention that the USACE Portland District is experiencing a fiscal year 2024 (FY24) budget shortfall of $970,000 due to rising costs. In response, the Portland District announced significant reductions this past December to hatchery production of trout, summer steelhead, and spring Chinook.

“We understand that planned reductions specifically include a 60% – 65% decrease in trout, a reduction of 172,000 Spring Chinook smolts, and the cessation of the entire summer steelhead production program for the Middle Fork Willamette starting in 2025. We have concerns that these reductions will negatively impact local economies, as well as area fisheries,” wrote the lawmakers.

The USACE is required to mitigate the loss of wild fish production caused by the construction of 13 dams (largely high-head) in the WVS. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife–which contracts with the USACE to produce these fish–has indicated that without additional funding these reductions are imminent. Together, the lawmakers share concerns that significant reductions are not consistent with the agency’s mitigation obligations and will result in serious impacts on local recreational fisheries.

“The Oregon recreational fishing community supports the local economy, helps to steward public resources, and contributes significantly to conservation efforts,” continued the lawmakers. “We request you allocate the appropriate funds this year to prevent these reductions and maintain the USACE’s responsibility to maintain its vital fisheries through mitigation hatchery production in Oregon.”

Further, the lawmakers are calling on USACE leadership to allow the USACE Portland District to request the full funding needed to maintain their mitigation responsibilities in the future.

“We hope to continue to work with your team to develop sustainable solutions for conserving wild fish populations and supporting local fisheries through continued hatchery production in the Willamette Basin,” the lawmakers concluded. 

Full text of the Oregon delegation letter can be found here, with support for the lawmakers’ action below:

“We’re grateful that Senator Merkley and more members of our Oregon delegation are fighting for the sportfishing community when it comes to destructive cuts to hatchery programs in the Willamette Valley,” said Bob Rees of the NW Guides and Anglers Association. “Professional fishing guides are already on the ropes with depleted runs of salmon and steelhead and with sportfishing representing one of the greatest transfers of wealth from urban to rural communities, funding our hatchery programs needs to be a high priority for the US Army Corps of Engineers, mitigating for the loss of fish habitat created by the Corps projects in the upper Willamette system.” 

“The Oregon Anglers Alliance deeply appreciates the extraordinary efforts of our Congressional delegates to secure full funding for the Willamette Valley System and its hatchery production,” said Leonard Krug, President of the Oregon Anglers Alliance. “Special thanks to Sen. Jeff Merkley, Senator Ron Wyden, and Congresswoman Val Hoyle for helping to make Willamette Valley native fish restoration a major success story.”