Slide Show

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nothing wrong with hatchery fish

Hatchery summer steelhead

People are free to believe what they want: Salmon always return to the stream where they were spawned.
Not true. 
Salmon and steelhead often return to the wrong stream. That's how they colonized new watersheds after the last Ice Age. Others believe hatchery fish should not be used to restore an ecosystem.
The experts doing the complaining about hatchery fish are usually part of the salmon restoration industry.
Salmon restoration is a complicated process where a river is studied, managed and fished until the fish are endangered. This opens a floodgate of federal endangered species funding which falls from the sky like manna. The money is used to hire consultants, publicists and earth moving machinery that looks good in the newspaper.
The restoration folks don't raise fish. This would sort of defeat the purpose since if the fish weren't endangered, no one would pay to restore them.
Instead of raising fish, they build log jams in hopes an imaginary fish can make it through the nylon and spawn there some day.
Hatchery fall coho
Until then the river is studied, managed and fished some more. 
When all else fails, blame the loggers.      
For an example of the salmon restoration industries cynical manipulation of our natural resources we need look no further than the Elwha River.
It is the largest salmon restoration effort in the country. They are taking out two dams to open 70 miles of pristine habitat that will allow an estimated 400,000 salmon to return to the river.
Never mind that our other Olympic Peninsula rivers, the ones without dams, don't support their historic numbers anymore. The salmon restoration “experts” claim the fish could come back to the Elwha without fish hatcheries.
They call fish raised in hatcheries “zoo fish” that could hurt salmon recovery by “weakening the genetic pool” of the fish native to the Elwha.”
The experts claim the trout that were trapped above the dams remain truly wild. They don't remember the good old days when the state pumped thousands of rainbow trout into Lake Mills, or when biologists flew thousands of hatchery smolts by helicopter to the upper Elwha to see if they could make it through the dams.
They did.
Washington started raising fish in hatcheries back in 1890.  Billions of hatchery salmon, trout and steelhead have been released into almost every river, lake and creek in the state.
The fish hatchery was first built on the Elwha after the Elwha dam was built in 1913. This hatchery washed out soon afterwards.  
In the 1970s a Chinook rearing channel was built on the Elwha. By then the hatchery workers could only find 12 female Chinook to spawn in the whole river.
Within a relatively short time they were spawning 1,000 Chinook a year. The Elwha facility could have restored the tens of thousands of fish that once supported a salmon fishing culture but fish hatcheries generally fail after you fire the workers and stop feeding the fish.
Meanwhile, nobody knows what the sediment will do to the salmon once they take out the Elwha dams or if the fish can make it upstream without a helicopter.
Given the way salmon and steelhead stray from one watershed to the other, it isn't a matter of if there will be hatchery fish in the Elwha but a question of when.
Is this a bad thing? Isn't it better to have some hatchery fish than no fish at all?
I am just a humble fishing guide but I never saw anyone complain about a hatchery fish when it was on the end of their line. 

1 comment:

  1. I learned a lot here! the boys are still talking about their trip with you as their excellent and FUN guide...

    And, believe it or not, they all cut their hair short! :)