On being “Anti-Hatchery”

On being “Anti-hatchery”

Interesting concept, that of being “anti hatchery.”

I recently wondered how one could earn the reputation of being an anti-hatchery person?  Being labeled pro-hatchery is often the equivalent of being anti-wild fish.  Being labeled pro-wild fish is often the unspoken couplet with being anti-hatchery.

Could a person be labeled pro-wild and pro-hatchery at the same time?

Hummm. I find these assumptions constraining and counterproductive.

Let’s get personal now. In the last several months I have been referred to, alternately, as being anti-hatchery and being a hatchery apologist.  I decided to look that one up.

a·pol·o·gist, noun:  Somebody who argues to defend or justify a particular doctrine or ideology.

Cool.  Now I’m anti-hatchery and pro-hatchery.  Is that, like, a double negative, making me pro-wild fish?

This line of thinking took me off into the weeds wondering about being anti-something-or-the-other.

I am anti-slavery.  I am against forced child labor.  I am against emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of men, women, and children.  I am against racial or religious persecution, discrimination, and stereotyping.  These moral positions are straightforward.  These are easy.  These are situations where, in my opinion, right and wrong are at stake.

I am also against environmental abuse.  Now things get a little more complicated.  How much environmental alteration does it take to constitute environmental abuse?  Not quite such a clear distinction, I think.  It is wrong to cut a tree?  Ten trees?  Ten thousand trees?  Half a rain forest?  Three quarters of rain forest?  Ninety percent of a rain forest?

Messy distinctions. Scientists might try to tell us what percent of a rain forest could be cut and still maintain the ecological function of the region, but our guts can probably tell us the answer faster than the studies can be done while the cutting goes on.

The same could be said for operating hatcheries and managing fishery harvest. The scientists are haranguing over hatchery-wild fish interactions, over sustainable fishery harvest rates.  They do this while our salmon and steelhead continue to decline.  And we, as anglers and conservationists, take positions based on science and our guts, sometimes listening selectively to the scientists so that we can hold our preferred gut level position.

For me, environmental abuse is a case of – I know it when I see it.  Quite possibly, I’m fuzzy about environmental abuse only because I have chosen to accept anthropogenic environmental alterations in my own selfish interests.

OK.  Must to return to fish talk; salmon and steelhead thinking.

I am against abusive fishing rates on our salmon and steelhead runs.  How much fishing does it take to constitute over-fishing? Depends on circumstances.  It’s complicated.

I’m against abusive operation of hatcheries.  What does it take to constitute abusive hatchery operation?  Depends on circumstances.  It’s complicated.

If given the power, which is a silly thought, I would not, given the state of the world today, get rid of all hatcheries, stop all fishing, nor would I put an end to all logging, or all farming, tear down all dams, or ……….

Ahah, maybe this makes me an apologist for environmental abuse.

I certainly would lower harvest rates in many fisheries.  I would try to change the mind-set of fishery managers who still worship MSY (Maximum Sustained Yield) and ask them to set higher spawning escapement goals. I can’t imagine many places where I would plead with fishery managers to substantially increase harvest rates on salmon or steelhead runs.

I would keep some hatcheries humming along, probably operated a little differently, but I would not continue putting hatchery fish in every river where they are stocked today.  I might start putting hatchery fish in some places where they are not being stocked now.

Imagine that.

If someone points out problems with hatcheries, or proposes changes to fish harvest management or timber harvest practices, or whatever the hell people do to the earth and it’s creatures, it is because they want people to understand the complexity of the issues and make informed choices.

I hope our future will include thriving wild salmon and steelhead.  It’s likely to have hatchery salmon and steelhead in it too.  Great.  Let’s find out where the balance can be established.  I hope we can fish and eat fish too.

If the world goes down in a pile of doo-doo, if it becomes necessary to choose one or the other, hatchery or wild – fishing or no – I’ll vote for no hatcheries and no fishing.  None.  I’d vote to save the wild fish.  Period.

I would cast this vote, in desperation only, to save something real, something full of wonder, something that we will never be able to recreate with our intellect.  I would cast this vote only if it was necessary, and finding the world in such a state  would sadden me greatly.

Let’s make sure no one gets boxed into this corner, here in the lower 48.


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