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More than 100 hatcheries are operated in Puget Sound and coastal Washington by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Puget Sound and coastal Indian Tribes, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Most were built to produce fish for harvest in response to declines in naturally spawning salmon populations.

Hatcheries now provide 70 percent of the salmon caught in Puget Sound and are the linchpin of an $854 million annual recreational fishing economy in Washington State (ranked eighth in the nation). Hatcheries also play an important role in meeting Tribal treaty harvest obligations. As better scientific information has become available, however, hatcheries have been identified as one of the factors responsible for the decline of naturally spawning populations.

State, Tribal, and federal managers of Washington's salmon and steelhead must ensure their hatcheries do not present a risk to several Puget Sound and coastal stocks that are listed or proposed for listing as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). But the managers are seeking to go beyond merely complying with ESA directives, to create a hatchery system that helps both to recover and conserve wild populations, as well as to support sustainable fisheries.

Within this context, the Hatchery Reform Project was developed as a cooperative effort to allow science to direct the process of ensuring that today's hatchery system matches today's circumstances and goals.