More on being “Anti-Hatchery”

More thoughts on being “Anti-Hatchery”

Consider a person who points out problems with historical and current hatchery management practices.  Should this person be categorized, strictly, as being anti-hatchery?  No.

Consider a person who accepts hatchery salmon and steelhead as a legitimate tool for judicious application in certain places in the world we live in today.  Should this person be categorized, strictly, as being anti-wild fish?  Silly thought.

Now that I’ve cleared that up (insert raucous laughter here), I want to share a thought.

I was in San Francisco with my family last week.  We were visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, like we always do.  I stood before a cross-section of one of the great suspension cables, marveling at the human ingenuity and determination that was required to build a bridge that was unthinkably complicated in it’s day.

Twenty seven thousand wires in each cable.  Eighty thousand miles of cable.  That’s a grundle of cable.  It took a lot of guts and crazy stubbornness to design and build that bridge in the 1930s.

Then I looked, for the umpteenth time, at the pattern of the wires in the suspension cable.  This time, instead of wire, I saw fish scales.

Odd.

It occurred to me that this bridge symbolizes the thinking of men who believed they could solve the crisis of declining salmon runs with hatcheries.  A hatchery is simply a technology, a tool invented by men to accomplish a task.  The task was to replace destroyed rivers.  The task was to replenish over-fished salmon runs.  The task was to improve on nature.  Nature creates the pattern we see in fish scales.  Humans created the pattern I saw in that massive bound cluster of steel cables.

The same intellectual determination that convinced men to build the Golden Gate Bridge convinced men that they could improve on nature, with salmon hatcheries.  Whatever nature could do with scales, or salmon runs, could certainly be improved-on by the powerful human engineering intellect.

At first, hatcheries were ineffective, or even counter-productive.  At first, hatcheries produced no returning fish, and some hatchery work actually depleted wild salmon runs.  This statement isn’t intended to open old wounds.  It is just the way things were.  White men took the land, took the water, cut all the trees they could cut, caught all the fish they could catch, and killed as much game as they could kill.  It is just how the West was intentionally taken for granted and dominated.

Old news.

The news of today is that, because of hatcheries, we have salmon in some places where we probably would not otherwise have many – or any.  After practically ruining many of our watersheds for salmon and steelhead, we do have salmon and steelhead where otherwise we would not, thanks to hatcheries.

We have spring Chinook and coho in the Umatilla today, after these species were killed off in the basin.  We have runs of a hundred thousand hatchery spring Chinook (in good run years years) returning to the Upper Willamette River instead of a few thousand wild fish surviving in a basin where dams have made the river largely inhospitable to salmon.

Given what has been done to the rivers of Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho, I believe that hatchery salmon and steelhead  have a valid place in the modern world.

That said, hatchery salmon and steelhead should not be stocked everywhere. If this assertion, this plea comes out of the blue, please excuse me.   Sometimes I just need to blurt out what I believe, and let the chips fall where they will.

I believe that there should be some places, some rivers, some runs of salmon and steelhead protected from the risks associated with hatchery fish. Protected more than usual from the risks associated with killing too many of the fish returning to the streams.  Protected from the risks associated with killing juveniles before they have a chance to mature.

We should do this, as managers, as anglers, as resource stewards, as humans, because we realize that we have lost so much of what is genuinely wild and diverse and precious, and irreplaceable in the natural world.  We should do this because we know that we do not fully understand the long-term effects of human impacts on the earth’s ecosystem.  We should do this because, well, because we want to preserve some ecological options for our children.

Because we know, in our guts, in our hearts, it is the right thing to do.

JN

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