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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon Ruling Makes
Policy Adhere to Science

by Editorial Board
Idaho Statesman, August 21, 2007

Not all salmon are created equal. Wild salmon are different - stronger and hardier - than their hatchery-raised brethren. That is a basic scientific fact. It is not, as a private property rights group would have you believe, some discriminatory slam against hatchery salmon.

"Regulators do not have license to pick and choose which salmon they'll pay attention to and which ones they'll ignore," argues Sonya Jones, an attorney for the Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Legal Foundation.

When exactly did salmon counting become a civil rights issue?

The reason for the overwrought rhetoric: A week ago, a court ruling applied a little common sense to the science of salmon. The federal government's fish counters are not required to treat hatchery salmon and wild salmon equally, said U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan of Eugene, Ore.

This ruling brings policy in line with science. Wild and hatchery fish are simply not the same.

At staggering taxpayer and ratepayer cost - the federal Bonneville Power Administration puts some $60 million a year into Columbia River basin hatcheries - science can replicate the genetics of wild fish. Science cannot "teach" hatchery fish the subtle but significant behavioral traits of wild salmon.

That's why wild salmon have greater success migrating to and from the Pacific Ocean.

Hatchery fish aren't without value. They do allow some anglers to fish for so-called "surplus" fish. And their greatest value - for defenders of the status quo - comes in the artificial boost they provide to languishing fish numbers. Hatchery fish account for 70 to 80 percent of the salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.

So who would argue for lumping the hatchery fish in with the wild fish? An agenda-toting group such as Pacific Legal Foundation, which has little regard for science or for the Endangered Species Act.

"When regulators put their hands over their eyes and act as if a large segment of the salmon population doesn't exist, they're more likely to impose harsh regulations on property owners and businesses, to 'protect' a species because they've deliberately underestimated its population," says Jones.

It's Jones' Pacific Legal Foundation that turns a blind eye to reality. Northwest salmon and steelhead - including Idaho chinook and sockeye salmon - continue to struggle. Their survival depends on sustained wild fish populations.

And since June, two federal judges have rightly rejected the notion that wild fish and hatchery fish are one and the same.

Undeterred by reality, Pacific Legal Foundation vows to appeal Hogan's ruling. If nothing else, this proves the legal red herring is a most hardy fish.

Related Pages:
The Case for Breaching is Stronger than Ever by Editorial Board, Idaho Statesman, 7/22/7

Editorial Board
Salmon Ruling Makes Policy Adhere to Science
Idaho Statesman, August 21, 2007

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