Federal officials will reduce funding for the Columbia fall hatchery chinook to reduce risks that they pose to protected wild fish.

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Federal hatchery funding for Columbia River fall chinook is expected to decline because of the risks these fish pose to the recovery of their wild counterparts.

The lower funding levels are expected to reduce by an average of 7 percent the catches of both commercial and sport fisheries for the fall chinook. Harvests by tribes would dip by 6 percent, according to a recently completed NOAA Fisheries review that will guide funding.

The Columbia River basin is a major producer of Pacific Northwest salmon, though the numbers are greatly diminished from historic times by the network of dams in the basin.

The 62 federally funded hatcheries are intended to help offset the impacts of development on the basin fish stocks. Meanwhile, the smaller wild runs, protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, are the focus of an ongoing rebuilding effort.

Michael Milstein, a NOAA Fisheries spokesman, says the research indicates that some hatchery fish stray into spawning grounds rather than return to the facilities where they were hatched. These strays then can breed with wild fish, weakening the genetic stock and producing offspring that are less able to survive, according to the research cited in the NOAA review.

“They are diluting the innate fitness of the wild fish,” Milstein said.

Another problem is that the hatchery fish, as juveniles, may compete with the wild stock for limited food supplies in the estuary rearing areas, he said.

NOAA Fisheries has tried, through periodic scientific reviews, to prevent hatchery fish from hindering the revival of wild runs.

But federal funding of the hatcheries, which has declined in recent years, brought a lawsuit last year from the Wild Fish Conservancy, which alleged the hatcheries were harming the recovery efforts.

In a biological opinion signed Jan. 15, NOAA Fisheries also called for a series of actions, which would be phased in over several years. They include a halt to the use of hatchery bloodstock that don’t originate from the Columbia River basin.

The biological opinion also calls for an increase in funding for hatchery coho salmon, because the research indicates they pose less risks to protected wild fish. The additional money should boost hatchery production of coho by 4 percent, according to Milstein.