Save Sockeye and Dams
by Patrick McGann
Those two sockeye salmon that returned to Redfish Lake on the upper Salmon River this year are the best friends inland irrigators and electricity users have. They represent a revolutionary shift in thinking about salmon hatcheries that may be the last chance for Columbia system dams and the people who need them.
Twice, the Salmon River sockeye run has zeroed out. It has depended completely on hatcheries for a decade, but not in the way most people think hatcheries are used.
In the case of the Salmon River sockeye, the hatcheries are used to preserve genetic makeup, not to augment the run size. It is the genetic material of the fish -- as well as genetic diversity of the run -- that makes native runs native.
Using hatcheries to achieve nativeness is revolutionary thinking. Most wild fish activists understandably find the tactic dubious, or at least outrageously expensive. But obviously, in this case there is no other choice short of massive economic upheaval in the entire Columbia drainage.
Most other hatcheries are used to augment run size, and since quantity is their mission, they are poor at achieving genetic diversity, and wild fish suffer for it.
The state's Eagle Hatchery has achieved its goal of protecting the genetic material of the run; now it's time to increase hatchery output while maintaining genetic diversity.
It's the big-bucket approach. The bucket has holes, so to get enough water to the destination, you need a big bucket. Consider it institutionalized inefficiency. Boost hatchery production, but diversify it and start with Salmon River salmon to prove that it can work.
Obviously, a focus exclusively on either quantity or genetic quality won't work on 900 miles of a dammed river system. It's time to do both until more workable downstream smolt survival and returning dam passage of adult fish can be achieved, if that can be done at all.
How can genetic diversity be maintained at levels that won't harm wild fish in a large factory-scale hatchery output? With money.
Both sides in the dam breaching debate are passionate, even desperate at times. Both point across the table and say the ultimate price must be paid by the other. Both sides point to cultural goals that must be preserved at all costs.
At all costs.
How about spending some of that passion on smarter, greener and more productive hatcheries before rushing to rip out dams?
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