In what some are calling an unprecedented move, the state plans to transfer its Klickitat fish-hatchery operations to the Yakama Indian Nation in an effort to restore fish runs...

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KLICKITAT, Klickitat County — In what some are calling an unprecedented move, the state plans to transfer its Klickitat fish-hatchery operations to the Yakama Indian Nation in an effort to restore fish runs to the upper basin of the Klickitat River.

It’s been more than 50 years since salmon and steelhead returned to spawn in the upper basin of the Klickitat, which flows some 100 miles from the base of Mount Adams to the Columbia River. Before hydroelectric dams were built on the Columbia, an estimated 15,000 fish returned to the river each year.

Beginning in February, the tribe will take over management of the fish hatchery after 50 years of state management. The state will continue to have a hand in operations.

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“This is groundbreaking for us — this is way outside of what we’re used to doing,” said Bill Tweit, state Department of Fish and Wildlife representative. “We’re usually pretty possessive of our hatcheries because we’re really proud of them.”

Under the transfer agreement, the state retains timber rights to the 200-acre hatchery site, east of Glenwood in a closed section of the reservation, and the public still will have access to the area for fishing and rafting.

Allowing the tribe to restore fish runs in the upper basin will improve fishing not only for tribal members, but also for commercial fishermen and sportsmen in the lower basin as well, Tweit said.

“If we can get fish in the rivers and streams up here, then families can come up here and camp and catch fish,” said Virgil Lewis, tribal council vice chairman.

The hatchery has been successful in stocking the river with fish, but salmon haven’t been returning to the upper watershed.