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Costs to Keep Salmon Coming Back Increase

by Associated Press
Seattle Times - May 13, 2002

PORTLAND -- Don't be fooled by the price tag on that plastic-foam package of salmon. Economists have figured out the cost of Columbia Basin salmon returning from the sea, and it is higher. Much higher.

The cost per fish:

The numbers represent how much it cost to build, staff, manage and monitor hatcheries that hatch fish, feed them and deliver them to the river system. The young salmon, called smolts, head for the ocean and, if everything works, return as mighty adults in two, three or four years.

Most fish don't make it, hence the hefty tab for survivors.

Some hatcheries exist to create fish for harvest; others exist to replenish specific rivers that have declining stocks of wild salmon; yet others exist to compensate for spawning grounds cut off by dams.

There are no measures by which to gauge hatchery success or failure. Columbia Basin salmon, overall, are not recovering on their own, despite improved runs in the past two years.

Now the Northwest Power Planning Council is on the case.

The council, composed of two representatives each from Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana, has started a yearlong review of hatchery policies and practices.

The first step was having independent economists examine hatchery costs by averaging returns over several years.

The study is not yet complete. But their preliminary calculations, among them the price per returning fish at six hatcheries in the Columbia Basin, are startling.

The Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery is designed to produce salmon that will breed naturally in the Clearwater River, where salmon are having trouble, and seven of its tributaries.

If that effort to reintroduce fish to the wild works, expensive salmon may be worth the price.

This hatchery may be a cheaper alternative than some other measures, such as taking out dams, restoring habitat or whatever else. Likewise, the Idaho Fish and Game sockeye-salmon hatchery in Eagle, Idaho, is designed to save Redfish Lake sockeye salmon from extinction.

Just 26 adult hatchery-born sockeye returned last year, and the average in the past three years was 96 fish.

Operating the hatchery and monitoring the results costs $714,000 a year, making each one of those 96 survivors worth $7,437.50, a price that Paul Kline, hatchery manager, thinks may be worth paying.

"How do you assign a price to saving this last remnant of a population?" Kline said.

Anglers are allowed to keep hatchery-born salmon with their adipose fins removed. Most wild-born salmon and non-clipped hatchery salmon, such as the ones from Idaho's Eagle Hatchery, are off-limits to anglers
(Nonetheless, Redfish Lake sockeye have been harvested in NMFS authorized fisheries the last two years - adds bluefish).

Associated Press
Costs to Keep Salmon Coming Back Increase
Seattle Times Company, May 13, 2002

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