If the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has its way, a new steelhead hatchery will be built on the moss-covered ruins of an abandoned federal hatchery. But the agency's plan for the $4 million Grandy Creek steelhead hatchery - the state's 91st - faces stiff opposition. Many conservation and fishing groups, as well as some federal scientists, believe hatchery-bred fish are partly responsible for the decline of wild stocks.


The project surfaced publicly in 1991, when local Skagit River anglers convinced the state legislature to fund the hatchery at the confluence of Grandy Creek and the Skagit River. But before it could break ground, the agency had to backtrack and do an environmental impact statement.


State wildlife officials say the hatchery would enhance fishing opportunities and bolster the local economy. They also maintain the hatchery-raised steelhead would return earlier than the river's wild steelhead, minimizing the chances of weakening the wild stock through interbreeding.


Opponents say the state has overestimated the economic benefit and underestimated the effects on wild steelhead. "Instead of restoring and augmenting the Skagit River wild steelhead fishery, the Grandy Creek project will end up destroying it," says Tryg Sletteland with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Sletteland says the environmental impact statement didn't adequately deal with issues such as competition between wild fish and hatchery fish and disease transmission.


The state is in the process of trying to obtain state and federal permits for the project. For more information, contact the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund at 206/343-7340 and the hatcheries program of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 360/902-2654.


*John Rosapepe