Wild Salmon – Hatchery Salmon….

Thoughts on the Artificial Propagation of Pacific Salmon

People have been culturing Pacific salmon in the Northwest corner of the lower 48 (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho) for over a century now.  By Pacific salmon i refer generally to native salmon, steelhead, and trout in the genus Oncorhynchus.

I worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for three decades, my roots firmly planted in research and policy regarding hatchery and wild salmon.  My current work with the Wild Salmon Center provides an ongoing professional opportunity to wrestle with the challenge of interpreting the science of hatchery and wild fish and supporting fish management policy that will sustain thriving wild salmon and steelhead populations long after we’re all smushed to dust.

I worked on the development of the Elk River Chinook hatchery program, a model in its day for integrating wild and hatchery fish.  I often mention The Elk River Hatchery program as one of the more progressive and an example of a place where managers have tried to operate the hatchery in a manner that would not degrade the wild population.

I also studied straying from the Private Salmon Hatcheries on the Oregon coast during the 1980s.  That adventure into privatization of salmon ranching was an economic disaster (Weyerhaeuser lost about ten million bucks in the process), and sent a lot of hatchery salmon straying into most nearby rivers.  The former effect, alone, drove private salmon ranches on the reef.  Biological concerns would probably have done the same, eventually, but the private investors pulled the plug first, I think.

Midway through my career, I dove into the historical record of fish management in the Pacific Northwest.  Fascinating!  Astounding! Frightening.  Sad.

I’ve seen some changes in management of hatchery and wild salmon and steelhead during the last four decades – positive changes, in my opinion.  Many changes that reflect a growing recognition of the intrinsic biological and cultural value of wild native fish.  Of course, with my professional focus and personal bias, i tend to think mostly about  native salmon, steelhead, and trout populations.

As anglers and people who care about fish and fishing, it is important to understand that there is more than a century of history, an evolution if you will, that precedes where we are today with management of wild and hatchery salmon.

Fish managers didn’t just wake up this morning and decide objectively what they would do with respect to hatchery and wild salmon.  They woke up in a goo of concrete, habitat destruction, fish food, coded-wire tags, research, constituent groups, budget constraints, employees, political pressures, mitigation requirements, tribal treaties, international agreements, and a schizophrenic public perception of the hatchery fish versus wild fish issue.

That’s a lot to find in one’s head before coffee.  Enough to make some heads explode, I would think, and it creates a lot of inertia, a lot of resistance to initiate any course corrections.

The task of providing unbiased information about the management of  hatchery and wild salmon is a challenge is hazardous — but I believe that wild salmon and our kids  deserve our best effort to do this.

With that in mind, I have drafted a piece on the Unintended Consequences of Hatchery Fish.

In a few weeks, when my friends and I are exhausted by editing the article, I will post the piece, one chapter at a time, ten days in a row.  The idea of doing so is to let each  point sink-in and ask folks to respond with their own perceptions, suggestions, and corrections.

I hope to learn from this exercise.  I hope we all learn from this exercise.

Stay tuned – sometime around the end of March – ten straight days of wild/hatchery fish introspection.



14 thoughts on “Wild Salmon – Hatchery Salmon….

  1. I’m enjoying your posts. This one is a great one. It will hopefully get minds churning. I can’t wait for the chapter-a-day posts. Thanks,

  2. Dale. We need to fish! Just got to get caught up. Like that’s gonna happen. April on the “River”?


  3. Jay, I don’t know if it is an issue or not, but I noticed that the web site clock is wrong. It indicated that my post was made about 3 PM today. It was actually made about 7:20 AM. I tried to contact the web site manager direct, but as usual, none of the options I tried took me anywhere useful. Just a heads up in case you know who to contact to correct it.
    Keep up the good work,

    1. Yeah. This might be due to the internet time zones being set to the solar rotational phase of StarGate Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy.

  4. Jay,

    Looking forward to it. If you need another set of eyes to go over the writing, just forward to my e-mail.

    1. Lord, Cameron, I don’t know if I have the stamina for more editing. However, I just may do so when I have a revised draft. Thank you for the kind offer. JN

    1. Miguel, thank you. It turns out that this topic is so emotionally charged that it may take me longer to edit the piece than I originally anticipated. I am resigned to the likelihood that whatever I write will be taken out of context in one way or another. My hope is that the article will generate honest self reflection by anyone who reads it.

      Some will see the article as a justification for “getting rid of hatcheries.” Not so. Some will see the piece as “condescending,” in the way it discusses hatchery and fishery management. Not so. Some will say, rightfully, that I have not told the whole story about hatchery fish, and wild fish, and how we got here, and where we are going, and the consequences of all the societal choices at hand. Some will fault me for not describing the science of hatchery and wild salmon sufficiently. So be it.

      I’m still working on this article and am committed to posting it as quickly as I can, warts and all.

      Heck, where’s the fun of perfection anyway? I may just let it fly with minimal editing have fun with the pandemonium when it comes.


  5. Jay:

    Caught a wild buck steelhead on a small stream Tuesday that had an interesting wound. I caught one other such steelhead with a very similar wound in the same location (on the fish not the stream) last year maybe? Anyway, I was curious to your opinion as to what could have caused this. It’s on One Mule Team. You can reach me there or at Onemuleteam@yahoo.com.

    If you are too busy, no biggie.

    Looking forward to the hatchery/wild piece. You are pretty much guaranteed to offend someone no matter what. Could be fun.


    1. Karl: yes, the yet-to-be-published hatchery-wild article is already drawing praise and critique, and it should be fun to put it out there. As to the wound, I do not know what to suggest. I can easily recognize many (but probably not all) wounds caused by harbor seals. I am also pretty good at noticing hook-scars. Something like the wound on your pictured fish is not in a category I recognize. Fish do get scuffed up by predators. Males do bite each other fighting over breeding rights. some wounds heal better than others. Always glad to see photos to keep in the mental file drawers. Glad too that you got out to fish. Depending on the habitat in the stream you fished, there may not even be much spawning gravel available. Only a trip to the headwaters would tell us that. And yes, good job making it to soccer practice. JN

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