Panel Bucks New Direction
by Bill Rudolph
In a single-page policy review published in last week's issue of Science magazine, six well-known ecologists appointed by the government to assess hatchery and wild fish concerns have crossed swords with NOAA Fisheries over the agency's direction in developing a new ESA fish policy to comply with a federal ruling in the Alsea Valley case.
The scientists said it was dangerous to include hatchery fish as part of an ESU [Evolutionarily Significant Unit] because "it opens the legal door to the possibility of maintaining a stock solely through hatcheries." They said hatcheries generally reduce fitness and inhibit future adaptation of natural populations, and that the legal definition of an ESU must be unambiguous--"Hatchery fish should not be included as part of an ESU," they said.
According to a press release accompanying the article, the panel decided to publish its findings in Science to ensure the policy implications reached a wide audience after NMFS "resisted" its findings and claimed its conclusions "went beyond science into policy." The panel, in turn, said the ESA status of wild salmon is in jeopardy because of legal and political pressures from landowners and timber interests.
"It's time NMFS protected our national legacy, in a legally-defensible manner," said panel member Robert Paine from the University of Washington. "Foot dragging and the resultant delays by NMFS policymakers are pushing these cultural icons of the Pacific Northwest toward extinction."
The policy paper said conservation hatcheries could play a role in future salmon recovery, but should only be used temporarily "to avoid the dysgenic effects of domestication."
The new fed new hatchery policy will be out "very soon," Bob Lohn, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator, told NW Fishletter. Last summer, Lohn told a Senate subcommittee that his agency "believes artificial production facilities can make an important contribution to salmon recovery in the Northwest."
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