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.