Wild Fish, Hatchery Fish, blah, blah,

Questions We All Should Answer

The e-mail arrived in my inbox last week.  Hi, my name is Chris.  I have been following your blog.  I am writing a personal profile for a Journalism Class and ……could I send you some questions, and…………..

Sure Chris.  Send the questions.  No promises.  I might want to share some of your thoughts on my blog; would that be OK?

Saturday.  The “question hand grenade”  hit my inbox with a thud.

Wow.  Decent questions.

This will take time.  I’ll answer some of Chris’s questions, but not now.

For now, I ask every reader who claims to love fish and fishing to try and answer these questions.

Making real progress for wild fish, for the future of fishing, depends on our collective answers.

Here are the questions Chris so thoughtfully posed.  Please wrestle with these.


* Describe your introduction to fishing.

* Who took you fishing?

* Was fishing something you immediately recognized as important to your life or did you come back to it later?

* How has fishing in Oregon changed over the years: tactics, marketing of the sport, hatchery influence, conservation, ODFW, fisherman’s attitudes?

* Is fishing in Oregon the same sport that hooked you in the beginning?

* What factors led to you making conservation and scientific study a part of your fishing?

* Do you think enough fisherman take into account the science behind our rivers?

* Is it possible to be pro hatchery and pro wild fish at the same time?

* Do the fish need the fishing community to be both pro-wild and pro-hatchery?

Now for the heavy stuff —

* What is good/bad about hatcheries where wild fish are concerned?

* Describe the science behind implementing a hatchery program on a stream?

* As an ODFW employee, what factors did you see influencing policy making besides science and the best interest of the fish and fisherman?

* What has led to the fishing community breaking into factions?  Bait fisherman, fly fisherman, conservationists, etc.

* Can everyone get along and work together as an angling melting pot to save our fisheries?

* How can we work to find some middle ground?

* If you were deemed the god of hatchery management in Oregon, what changes would you make?

* What do you see as the biggest misconceptions by the everyday angler about hatcheries and their effect on wild fish?

* With our fisheries in such bad shape, is it acceptable for any fishermen to be taking from the stream without giving back through conservation?

* What do you see in the future for hatchery and wild fish?


Thank you Chris.  We all have some homework to do.


9 thoughts on “Wild Fish, Hatchery Fish, blah, blah,

    1. I wasn’t lying when I said I had a hand grenade, and I hope you didn’t lose any limbs when that thing went off. My curiousity is perhaps a little out of control, but I just can’t help myself!

  1. Rob and Chris: Three books at least. I am starting to write responses, knowing that my words will be inadequate, still hoping that everyone who cares about fish will try to answer these same questions. I do believe that our futures will be shaped by our mind-set.


    1. Hatchery programs have profound effects on wild populations. Depending on the river system, and type of hatchery program hatchery impacts will manifest themselves differently. Far and away the most widely documented and accepted hatchery impact is the threat posed by hatchery introgression into wild populations. That is, hatchery fish spawning with wild fish. Spawning and rearing in a hatchery is profoundly different than what wild fish experience, meaning that hatchery fish have very low reproductive success when spawning in the wild. Hatchery fish spawning with wild can dramatically reduce the productivity of wild stocks and in some cases may undermine the genetic integrity of the wild stock.

      Ecological impacts such as disease, competition and large predator communities supported by hatchery releases are probably at least as big a problem as the aforementioned threat of reproduction between wild and hatchery fish. Sadly these effects are difficult to document and are only given lip service by managers.

      Hatcheries are undoubtedly a permanent part of the fisheries management landscape, but if we hope to protect and restore healthy wild populations we need to make some serious changes in how hatchery programs are implemented. The first action managers must take is to identify key watersheds for wild populations, places with relatively intact habitat, healthy and diverse populations of wild fish which can be sustained now and into the future. Then they need to stop all hatchery releases in these places. Second, there is a need for a greater understanding of how many smolts a given ecosystem can actually support. In Puget Sound for example, hundreds of millions of salmon and steelhead smolts are released annually by WDFW with dismal survival. Even the HSRG (hatchery science review group) expressed concerns that the number of hatchery fish being released into the Sound was outstripping its carrying capacity. The fact is we are way over supplementing many ecosystems with disastrous effects for survival of wild fish.

      From an angling culture perspective, ocean fresh wild salmon and steelhead represent the pinnacle of our Northwestern Sporting traditions. Their willingness to the fly, strength, and beauty are unsurpassed and cannot be matched by any man made fish. all one needs to do is look at a photo of a beautiful wild summer steelhead next to a hatchery drone with no fins to see the difference.
      Hope that helps.

      1. Apocalypse. We don’t know each other, but we share many of the same concerns. We might make some different choices if we were in charge, but we ain’t. I looked up “apocalypse” just now, having memorized most of the lines in the Martin Sheen movie (“nothing like the smell of Napalm in the morning”).

        I saw words like disaster; catastrophe; day of reckoning; Judgment Day; end of the world; and destruction. A day of reckoning could be a good thing as far as making choices that shape the future of wild fish and hatchery fish and fishing and watersheds, and what is left of our world here in the lower 48 corner of the Pacific Northwest. I think it is time for change. Time for Judgment Day. I hope that means working together in the fishing community, cuz the developers will have fun carving us silly hatchery fish wild fish crazies up and shoving us under the asphalt paver if we can’t work together. Geeze, I can’t believe i said that. Thank you for caring enough to respond.

        Here’s a thought. We have all seen the pathetic-looking hatchery steelhead you spoke about. I am willing to assume that your reverence for an honest-to-goodness wild fish goes deeper than the appearance you called into question. I only make this point because it can get messy if people get focused on appearance over substance.

        What would you say about a burly bodied, pure-chrome, sleek-finned hatchery fish that made your knees buckle with a smokin’ hot grab-and-run?


  2. I dont deny the issue is politically complex and that wild fish need all the friends they can get. sadly though too many have been raised on the “harvest opportunity” and second rate hatchery fish. When it comes to actual policy I am a pragmatist, we need a solid network of wild fish refuges that can provide long term, sustainable sport fishing opportunities if we want the angling community behind wild fish in their fullest.

    When it comes to aesthetics, angling, and a love for rivers and fish I am a purist. Hatchery fish may occasionally make a respectable showing but on the whole they are an inadequate substitute for their wild counterparts. Given the ecological and evolutionary costs associated with hatcheries, man made fish will never stack up for me. hatchery fish get the rock shampoo.

    PS-apocalypse simply refers to the end of days that has fallen upon my beloved Puget Sound and our local steelhead culture. Fight to protect your home rivers, because as we have seen in the Sound, once they start sliding it can be hard to stop. While WDFW would love to deny it, huge hatchery programs in the Sound have played a major role in depressing wild populations on my home rivers.

    1. Not surprising. Talk to hatchery professionals who are trying to raise first generation in the hatchery salmon, steelhead, or trout. I have. They tell me that the juveniles, right from the git-go, are scaredy-cats that hide at the approach of a shadow or person. These fish are difficult to get to feed. Techniques must be developed to “shelter” them and introduce feed to them in a manner that they will take it. Fascinating. Huge contrast from offspring of multi-generation hatchery salmonids that usually take quickly to being hand fed.

      I am no expert in these matters. It seems, though, that selection for certain behaviors could be occurring as a consequence of the hatchery environment. Some observers suggest that we should be making our hatcheries more like rivers by adding logs to raceways and dangling faux predators over the water. This makes me laugh. Why not just keep our rivers healthy places for young salmon and steelhead to live? What an idea, thinking of a river as a “natural “hatchery.


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