Unspeakable: the wild versus hatchery discussion

Jay Nicholas Hatchery Spring Chinook

One of the topics I’ve generally been avoiding lately is the matter of wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.

That’s right. Some of the very kind people who follow my blog think of me (I have learned) as a person who is ready and willing to talk about almost anything/everything.

Not so, at least no so these days.

The topics of salmon hatcheries, hatchery salmon (and steelhead and trout) and the interactions between hatchery and wild salmonids in the Pacific Northwest, and the influence of salmon hatcheries on the philosophy and practice of fishery management are DIFFICULT for me to write about.


I have learned that my words, interpretations of science, personal observations, opinions, and so forth, are too often taken and repeated in ways I never intended — used to support narrow views that are far from what I believe.

The topic of hatchery management, hatchery salmon, wild salmon and the future of hatchery and wild salmon in Oregon is a minefield of explosive passions.

I’ve learned that my musings about hatchery and wild salmon over the last several years have so offended some individuals that I’ve been “black listed” as an enemy of wild fish. I’ve been labeled a “hatchery sympathizer.” “Hatchery apologist” is another name tag hung around my neck. This might be funny except for the fact that I was labeled as an “anti-hatchery wild fish nut” in the early stages of my professional career.

I’ve thought about this quit a bit, especially because I respect some of the individuals who now view me as an “other,” as a person who might damage the future of wild salmon.

Right or wrong, I’ve decided that passionate salmon people are usually more comfortable when divided into one of two tribes: pro-hatchery or the anti-hatchery. All too often, being pro-hatchery means anti-wild and pro wild means anti-hatchery.

I get it but I don’t.

Why is it so difficult to recognize the complexities of salmon and salmon management across the Pacific Northwest?

Why is it so difficult to consider the futility of managing the entire region only for wild salmon, or only for hatchery salmon, but but never trying to finesse some combination of hatchery and wild salmon management.

So I move on and blather about fishing and tackle and leave others to battle it out over a future world with only wild salmon or only hatchery salmon.

Those oppositional positions are, I think, silly at best, dangerous at worst.

But I’m done for the moment. I fish a river that supports runs of hatchery and wild steelhead and chinook; wild coho, and wild cutthroat. I would be perfectly happy to fish here is there were only wild salmonids. It would break my heart if there were only hatchery fish here. I think (my opinion) is that we have more total fish returning to the river with hatchery and wild fish than if our run was comprised only of wild fish. A run to this river of only wild salmonids would still provide enough fish to make it reasonable to fish here, with two caveats.

1. We would not have a run of spring chinook. There would be a few springers, so few that they should be left alone.

2. We would not have a run of summer steelhead. The present run is virtually 100% hatchery fish because they were never native to the system and they do not seem to reproduce here naturally.

3. The runs of fall chinook and winter steelhead would be large enough to make fishing worthwhile, but harvest of wild fall chinook should be more limited that it is now and harvest of wild winter steelhead should not be allowed (as is the current regulation).

4.Angling pressure for fall chinook would remain very intense, as it is with both hatchery and wild fish present.

5. Angling pressure for spring chinook and summer steelhead would drop to zero.

6. Angling pressure for winter steelhead (much smaller run and no harvest allowed) would decline but stabilize at a much lower level than we see these days.


OK. I’ve run out the end of what I have the energy to say here this morning.

Jay Nicholas – 11 MAY 2018

7 thoughts on “Unspeakable: the wild versus hatchery discussion

  1. Jay,
    I read your most interesting thoughts.. Very poignant & cognitive.. This one of the many reasons I place such value on you.. Two responses follow: You, unlike others, think before you opinionate.. Such as my first anadromous(sp) opinion of what should be done to enhance the population s of anadromous species in the northwest..
    “Open season on seal and cormorants”.. After ponderment you responded with a list of actions that were substantive rather shoot to kill.. This thought process continued throughout our time together.. I enjoyed that and would like more of it..
    My second observation: Our current political situation.. Have people always been soo opinionated?? With such a convicted intent.. “It’s my way or the highway”.. Seems such as the hatchery v wild tilt..
    Enough bloviating, I long to “panga” with you soon

  2. As I see it two main problems with hatchery fish: 1) their presence keeps us distracted from the dire issues facing all migratory salmonids, and 2) all migratory salmonids stray and hatchery stocks dilute the gene pool.

  3. Another good one, Jay. Well written. Do you suppose that part of the “issue” may be the general lack of understanding of the science behind the introduction of hatchery fish?? A lot of folks also do not understand the overall impact to the native fishery. Don’t get me wrong, I do not see hatcheries as a long time band aid but prefer it to fishing in an empty river for sure. Maybe a better understanding of the balancing act to facilitate (or at least take off the presser) the recovery of natives. Just a thought.

  4. Your May 30, 2017 write up on this ties this all together well. Both articles are mandatory reading for anyone interested in the future of these beautiful fish. Keep it going, Jay. Your insights are important to all.

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