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Oregon Hatchery Research Center Frequently Asked Questions

Who do I contact for information?

Joseph O’Neil, ODFW
OHRC Facility Manager 
2418 East Fall Creek Road
Alsea, OR 97324 
P: (541) 487-5510

David Noakes, OSU
OHRC Senior Scientist
Fisheries and Wildlife
104 Nash Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331
P: 541-737-1953
Tom Stahl, ODFW
Conservation & Recovery Program Manager
4034 Fairview Industrial Dr SE
Salem, OR 97302
P: (503) 947-6219

Scott Patterson, ODFW
Fish Propagation Program Manager
4034 Fairview Industrial Dr SE
Salem, OR 97302
P: (503) 947-6218

What is the Oregon Hatchery Research Center?

The Oregon Hatchery Research Center is a state-of-the-art research facility that provides a place for scientists to study native fish recovery and hatchery programs. The Center is owned by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and is jointly operated by ODFW and Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The Center’s fish-rearing facilities enable researchers to study both natural and hatchery environments. Facilities include four artificial streams that replicate natural channels and allow scientists to alter substrate, cover, shade and water flow to mimic a variety of natural conditions; four raceways to produce fish under traditional hatchery conditions for comparison with wild fish; and a tank farm with approximately 40 tanks for rearing groups of fish.

These fish-rearing facilities and the Center’s laboratory help researchers answer questions vital to the success of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, the state’s innovative, volunteer-based effort to conserve and revitalize Oregon’s salmon resources.

Studies conducted at the Center address many questions about recovery and hatchery programs. Examples of research questions the Center may address include:

  • What types of habitats provide the optimum environments for salmon spawning and egg survival?
  • Do key differences exist between wild and hatchery fish, and how might those differences impact the health and fitness of wild fish populations?
  • How can the survival of fish be maximized during their migrations to and from the ocean?
  • How can hatchery practices most effectively support the twin goals of recovering native fish species and providing commercial fishing and recreational angling opportunities?

The answers to these and other questions through the years ahead will help Oregon make science-based decisions about stream habitat restoration, hatchery management practices, and other efforts to restore and conserve Oregon’s prized salmon and steelhead populations.

What is the purpose of the OHRC?

The goal of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center (OHRC) is to answer questions related to fish recovery and hatchery programs, including the differences that may exist between wild and hatchery fish, and how to better manage those differences. Information gained at the OHRC will help answer questions vital to the success of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds and the Native Fish Conservation Policy.

Is the OHRC open to the public?

Yes. Like most ODFW facilities, the OHRC has scheduled hours for public visits. In addition, the facility will have a strong education mission to educate university students, K-12 youth, and interested individuals about wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead. The area also will provide professional development opportunities for ODFW employees and other natural resource professionals.

What prompted development of the OHRC?

Hatchery roles, expectations and measures of success have changed dramatically since the 1980s. Back then, hatcheries focused on maximizing the number of fish that survived in the hatchery and were released into streams and rivers. Today, goals for hatcheries include 1) maximizing the number of hatchery fish harvested when they return from the ocean while minimizing undesirable effects on wild fish, and 2) minimizing impacts of hatcheries on the watersheds that surround them, because hatcheries and the fish they produce are part of the ecosystem where they exist. Many questions remain about the interactions between hatchery and wild fish, and the use of hatchery fish to mitigate declining trends in natural production. Research at the OHRC will help ensure that hatchery reform is forward-thinking and scientifically based, as well as an effective and wise use of public resources.

How will information gained at the facility be used?

Information gained at the OHRC will answer questions important to the success of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, the Hatchery Management Policy and the Native Fish Conservation Policy. Improved information will help 1) prevent depletion of Oregon ’s native fish by protecting streams and rivers, and taking full advantage of their productive capacity, and 2) use hatchery fish responsibly to support viable populations of wild fish, and sustain sport, commercial and tribal fisheries.

What does the research facility consist of?

The OHRC site contains an education and research building with laboratory space, an interpretive center, offices, classrooms, audio/visual capability, conference rooms and 24, dormitory-style living quarters. In addition, the OHRC site includes four artificial streams, fish-rearing facilities, maintenance shop, storage building, water treatment facilities and residences for three full-time employees.

The Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team (IMST), which advises the state on matters related to the Oregon Plan, sponsored a workshop in October 2003 to develop the type of research to be conducted and the type of facility needed to accommodate that research. The facility features a wide range of options for spawning, incubating and rearing fish. Flexibility in design and operation will allow the OHRC to meet the needs of a variety of research projects. Some examples include constructed stream channels with streambeds that simulate natural conditions and shade covers to control temperature, underwater feeding capabilities, small containers to allow isolated rearing of individual fish families, and video cameras to record behavior for study.

Why was Fall Creek selected for the site of the OHRC ? Doesn’t the Alsea Basin have a relatively healthy coho run that may not need supplementation from a hatchery to rebuild?

Reasons for locating the facility in the Alsea Basin at the former Fall Creek Hatchery site include ODFW ownership, water rights, gravity flow, pollution abatement facilities, and room to construct various types of rearing containers to meet flexible research demands. The site also is close to scientific institutions such as Oregon State University and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Because it is located on the Alsea River, the OHRC will be able to use a healthy coastal river system for comparison.


How was the OHRC funded?

The Legislature and Governor developed $7 million in funding for the OHRC. The budget includes $4 million from Measure 66 capital funds, $1.125 million in Lottery Funds from the Restoration and Protection Research Fund, and $1.875 million in ODFW’s Other Funds.

The Governor’s Office also has requested Congressional support for federal funds to support research at the OHRC . Oregon is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to further explore federal funding options.

Who operates the OHRC?

The OHRC is a cooperative effort between ODFW, which owns the facility, and OSU. ODFW and OSU have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for operation and oversight of the OHRC . The organizations share the cost of a Senior Scientist who oversees OHRC research and operations. The Senior Scientist is an OSU faculty member.

Management partners include the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tribes and state agencies.

What kind of oversight is there for the OHRC?

Oversight of the OHRC will be led by Dr. Noakes who will use established criteria to review proposals for research at the facility. Dr. Noakes will work closely with scientists with a broad cross section of expertise and experience in this type of research, and may include members of the university community, ODFW, IMST and other fishery professionals. Dr. Noakes will seek independent peer review of proposals and results. Dr. Noakes will also work closely with a 15 member public advisory committee.

Who is operating the OHRC and who is involved in its design and research?

Partners in the effort are the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), which owns the OHRC , Oregon State University , NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tribes, and other Oregon Plan partners. An ODFW hatchery manager and two hatchery technicians live on site to oversee maintenance and safety, conduct education and outreach activities, and provide general fish-culture guidance to researchers.


What is the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds?

The Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds is a volunteer-driven effort initiated in 1997 to restore salmon runs, improve water quality, and achieve healthy watersheds and economically vital communities throughout Oregon.

Key elements of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds include:

  • Voluntary restoration activities by private landowners, businesses, citizen groups, conservation organizations and watershed councils.
  • Coordinated local, state and federal actions to support private restoration efforts.
  • Public information and education programs about watersheds and salmon.
  • Management of hatcheries and salmon harvest to ensure sustainable levels of salmon populations while maximizing fishing opportunities.
  • Oversight by an independent panel of scientists who evaluate the plan’s effectiveness, identify needed changes and guide research.

Oregon Plan activities are funded through a variety of sources including the Oregon Lottery, sales of salmon license plates and fishing licenses, and federal funds.

How can you help?

Lend a hand. Volunteer for habitat restoration projects organized by local watershed councils, soil and water conservation districts, and non-profit groups.

Learn more. Attend local watershed council meetings, educational programs and activities.

Take actions at home and at work. Conserve water and electricity, minimize the release of chemicals into Oregon’s waterways and landscape and build in a manner that conserves healthy fish and wildlife habitats.

What is a watershed?

A watershed – or catchment – is the land that water flows through on its way to a stream, river, lake or ocean. No matter where you stand on land, you are in a watershed.

Each watershed contains a drainage system that conveys rainfall, snowmelt and groundwater to its outlet. Within a large watershed, such as the Columbia River Basin, there are many smaller watersheds that contribute to overall stream flow. The Oregon Hatchery Research Center is in the Alsea Watershed, which rests within the Northern Oregon Coastal Basin.

The streams and rivers within watersheds increase in size as tributaries enter larger waterways and add to the amount of water and sediment carried toward the ocean. These networks of waterways collect and convey surface runoff generated by rainfall, snowmelt and groundwater to Oregon’s estuaries and the Pacific Ocean.

Because almost all the area within a watershed is land, not water, the ecological health of land is crucial to the health of the streams and rivers flowing through a watershed. This is why habitat protection and restoration is so important to restoring and conserving Oregon’s native fish populations.

How can you help?

You can help keep the watershed in which you live healthy by taking care not to wash pollutants like detergents and pesticides into gutters or streams. You can plant trees and other vegetation along streams and rivers to help keep the water cool and provide protection for fish and other aquatic species. How you use the land in which you live and recreate makes a difference.

What type of research will be conducted?

Scientists are in the process of developing the research questions the facility will be designed to answer.

In general, the facility will address questions about the differences that may exist between hatchery and wild fish, causes for those differences, and ways to reduce differences and adverse interactions between hatchery and wild fish. Information gained at the facility will help guide statewide salmon recovery efforts and hatchery operations to reduce impacts to watersheds.

Research activities will be conducted in cooperation with Oregon State University programs. ODFW and the other management partners will provide oversight and will solicit independent peer review of research proposals and experimental designs. The Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team (IMST), which advises the state on matters related to the Oregon Plan, will work with scientists to determine appropriate research questions. Those questions will help determine facility design. Members of IMST are appointed by the Governor and Legislative leadership, and represent a range of scientific disciplines.

Will the OHRC duplicate research taking place in other states?

The OHRC will focus on coastal systems and serve a unique and supportive role that complements research at other Pacific Northwest facilities. The OHRC ’s location within a healthy river system will allow critical comparisons of hatchery methods with production in the natural environment, a feature not available in many studies. Much of the ongoing research in other areas depends on streams that already have severely depressed wild runs. Current facility and research plans will ensure the OHRC addresses key research questions and uses funds responsibly for operations.

What is the role of hatcheries?

Hatcheries play a vital role in augmenting fish populations for harvest. Some hatcheries may also help conserve and restore declining or imperiled fish populations.

Hatchery harvest programs raise and release fish to provide sport, commercial and tribal harvest opportunities beyond what the naturally reproducing fish populations can sustain. Most of the hatchery programs in Oregon are harvest programs.

Hatchery mitigation programs are a specific type of hatchery harvest program. These programs provide hatchery fish to compensate for the loss of natural production and harvest due to the placement of dams on rivers.

Some hatcheries may operate conservation programs intended to help conserve and increase the number of naturally reproducing native fish. These hatchery programs may contribute to the sustainability of native fish populations through increased survival rates of wild fish throughout Oregon’s waterways. These efforts help restore fish populations in streams and rivers that historically have included those populations.

Hatcheries use different types of conservation programs to address the different factors limiting natural fish populations:

Supplementation programs used by hatcheries can include routing a portion of an imperiled wild population through the hatchery for part of the population’s life cycle. This process gives fish a temporary survival boost. Hatcheries also help supplement existing wild fish populations by bringing in a suitable fish stock to supplement an imperiled local population.

Captive broodstock programs take a portion or all of an imperiled wild fish population into a protective hatchery environment for the entire life cycle of the fish. This technique is used when it is particularly important to maximize the survival rate of a specific fish population.

Captive rearing programs take a portion of an imperiled wild fish population into a protective hatchery environment for a part of the population’s life cycle that cannot be sustained in the wild.

Egg banking is a process that temporarily removes a naturally produced native fish population from a habitat that cannot sustain it and relocates the population to another natural or artificial area that can support the fish.

Restoration programs place suitable non-local native fish in waters currently vacant of native species to help restore fish to those waterways.

It is through these and other critical activities conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s more than 30 hatcheries that the state’s native fish populations are protected and enhanced for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations of Oregonians. Exploring how these programs can become even more effective is one of the primary purposes of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center.

Will the OHRC also be a production facility and use conventional hatchery facilities and operations?

The OHRC is being created specifically for fisheries research and will NOT be a production facility. It will not produce fish for harvest or large-scale supplementation of naturally spawning populations. All fish reared and released at the facility will be explicitly tied to research projects.

The OHRC will not be used as a large-scale production facility to supplement wild runs in the Alsea Basin . Much of the research will occur on site at the facility. Although some research activities may require limited out-planting of hatchery fish to compare with wild runs, any fish released will be part of specific research projects incorporating scientific peer review, and will be closely monitored.

The OHRC is a state-of-the-art facility embodying a wide range of design options for spawning, incubation and rearing. Incorporating maximum flexibility in facility design and operation will allow individual research projects to be accommodated based on their specific needs.

Some examples that may be considered for the facility’s design include construction of natural stream channels with substrate and cover, underwater feeding components, small rearing containers to allow isolated rearing of individual groups of fish, and video capabilities to study behavior. In addition, conventional raceways may be used to enable researchers to compare natural rearing approaches with conventional hatchery approaches.


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