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Record Salmon Year, But Concerns Raised

by Tyler Graf
South County Spotlight, September 17, 2010

Environmentalists worried hatchery fish will have negative impact on wild salmon

Chinook Salmon In the last decade, the government agencies in charge of tracking salmon recovery along the Columbia River have seen steep increases in the number of salmon returning to the river.

As the numbers continue to grow -- with 291,000 adult Chinook salmon counted passing the Bonneville Dam during the spring of 2010, well above the 10-year average -- there's concern from environmental activists that the high numbers of hatchery fish included in the fish pool will have a negative effect on the wild salmon.

Bonneville Power Administration biologists attributed the improved fish run to the prime oceanic conditions juvenile fish encountered in 2007 and 2008. There have also been marked improvements to freshwater rearing habitat and hatchery practices in the Columbia Basin, scientists say. They also point to fish-friendly improvements to the basin's hydroelectric dams, which have created better conditions for migrating fish and better management of salmon harvests.

In addition to the high Chinook returns, there were 274,782 adult sockeye salmon that passed the Bonneville Dam -- a higher number than National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fishery biologists anticipated. If that trend continues, then the region might see more sockeye passing Bonneville than at any time since 1955.

Conservationists, however, said it's not all good news.

"My immediate response when hearing these numbers is, 'Are these wild fish, or are they supplemental hatchery fish?'" said Peter Rand, a conservation biologist with the Wild Salmon Center and the State of the Salmon Program.

Agencies tasked with tracking the fish said virtually all the sockeye observed are wild. Still, Rand said, hatchery fish are more prone to ailments, such as kidney disease and the IHN virus, a devastating disease that causes internal hemorrhaging. With the higher-than expected returns of the last few years, conservationists have seen these diseases making their way up the Washington coast.

For Joe Salvey, a fishing guide based in Scappoose, the big runs have meant big business. His boats have been full all season, he said.

He discounts concerns over hatchery fish. "It's pretty easy for us to tell which ones are hatchery fish when they're caught," he said. "They're all marked."

While Columbia salmon and steelhead runs have remained strong within the Columbia River, other salmon stocks, such as Sacramento River fall Chinook, declined. There have been fishing closures off the central and southern Oregon coast, which were designed to protect Sacramento fish. Columbia River fisheries have remained open with provisions designed to safeguard protected species.

Tyler Graf
Record Salmon Year, But Concerns Raised
South County Spotlight, September 17, 2010

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