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Shortage Region WA231

Shortage Location
Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Grays Harbor, Pacific, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Clallam, King, Lewis, Skamania, Pierce Counties, WA
Location Center
Ridgefield, WA 98642
VMLRP Status
(Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program)
Priority of shortage
Fiscal year
Percent FTE
(Full Time Equivalent, based on a 40hr work week.)
Type of Shortage
(Veterinary Practice Area / Discipline / Specialty)
Type III Shortage: Public Practice
VSGP Status

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Position Title
Aquatic Veterinarian
Disciplinary area
Food Safety,
Public Health,
Carry Over
Nominator Name
Amber J Itle
Nominator Title
Washington State Veterinarian
Nominator Org
Nominator Email
Nominator Phone
Importance/Objectives of Veterinarian

WDFW aquatic veterinary services are responsible for WDFW salmon and trout hatcheries in SW Washington including the lower Columbia River and Willapa Bay regions. The position also serves as the Veterinarian of Record for hatchery facilities in south Puget Sound and Grays Harbor area and is additionally responsible for inspecting commercial aquaculture facilities in these areas. WDFW aquatic veterinarians in the region are directly responsible for the health of 300 + million salmon produced in these hatcheries. It is difficult to retain aquatic veterinarians and pathologists in this geographic area. There have been four pathologists or veterinarians in this area (two veterinarians and two pathologists) that have left in recent years. The work is demanding and there is a significant amount of driving between hatcheries. The WDFW budget is limited, and there is no short- or long-term plans to increase the number of veterinarians in this geographic region.

Veterinarian Medical Activities & Services

The aquatic WDFW veterinarians are not only responsible for the clinical health of WDFW hatchery-reared salmonids, but serve to protect food safety (the salmon produced at these hatcheries are intended for human consumption, whether by recreational or commercial catch), in addition to monitoring for antimicrobial resistance, performing epidemiological surveys and analysis of disease outbreaks, collecting biological samples for disease monitoring and prevention as part of the The Salmonid Disease Control Policy of the Fisheries Co-Managers of Washington State, as well as protecting public health by investigating fish mass mortality events caused by both natural and anthropogenic means.

Historical Efforts of Recruiting/Retaining a Veterinarian

There are only a small number of veterinarians countrywide with the knowledge and experience to provide veterinary services to Pacific salmon enhancement hatcheries. Retention of this position will be important and critical to establishing veterinary services for WDFW salmon programs. Position reclassification for aquatic veterinarians from Fish Health Specialist to an Epidemiologist 3 helped improve salaries but not with retention. There is a pattern with hiring and retaining many WDFW aquatic veterinarians. WDFW trains them and they obtain 2-5 years of experience, and then they find a more lucrative positions in private industries or other government entities where the salaries can be 50% to 100% more than their salaries with WDFW.

Consequences of Not Securing/Retaining a Veterinarian

Many Pacific salmon species are listed in the Endangered Species Act as Threatened or Endangered; WDFW programs have hatchery production as well as captive brood facilities dedicated to recovering these threatened and endangered stocks, in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There are a significant number of fish health problems that imminently and directly threaten these salmon species.

If this position is not retained, WDFW hatcheries will be very limited in their ability to produce fish and will not be able to meet their production requirements. WDFW programs, including programs with ESA-listed threatened and endangered animals, will be unable to treat fish for common diseases that frequently require medicated feeds and extra label drug use. The resulting severe decrease in both quantity and quality of fish produced will result in degradation of commercial and recreational salmon harvests and significant economic and conservation impacts.

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