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GOP Leaders Push Plan to Restore Endangered Runs with Hatchery Fish

by Tomoko Hosaka, Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, May 23, 2001

Opponents say a bill in the House would destroy native populations of salmon

SALEM -- Republican lawmakers, hoping to speed up salmon recovery in the state, are pushing an idea -- using hatcheries to restore endangered runs -- that challenges the philosophy embraced by state and federal officials.

Republicans have moved two bills to the House floor, the furthest the idea has ever advanced in the Legislature. The proposals, expected to come up for debate within the next week, will showcase the clashing opinions about the best way to recover threatened species.

Proponents say using hatchery fish to supplement native populations would replenish salmon runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Opponents say allowing fish that aren't hardened to life in the wild to breed with wild fish would destroy native runs.

"The current policy is flawed in looking at the issue of what is a viable fish," said Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, chairman of the House Stream Restoration and Species Recovery Committee. "We're just wasting a lot of time and money making this distinction. If we weren't, I'm not sure that we would have these fish listed."

House Bill 3014, which passed Jenson's committee last week on a 4-3 party-line vote, would direct the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider as wild fish those that are bred from wild stock and raised in hatcheries that "mimic natural conditions."

But even if it passes the House, two big obstacles remain: the Senate, where it may not get a hearing, and Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has repeatedly stated his opposition.

Although the issue isn't expected to make it out of the Capitol this session, the bill's success so far illustrates Republican legislators' and tribes' frustration with the Department of Fish and Wildlife's wild fish policy and their increasing resolve to refocus the agency's efforts.

"If all we ever do is rely on native species, it will take us forever" to meet federal goals for restoring the runs, said Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, HB3014's sponsor.

The bill has the backing of the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which points out the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla have used hatcheries to restore once-extinct salmon in the Umatilla River.

The bill is opposed by environmental and sportfishing groups, Democratic lawmakers and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They say such proposals are simplistic approaches unproven by science. They claim supporters are acting in self-interest, looking for more fish to catch.

"This is the kind of bill that doesn't support salmon recovery," said Bill Bakke of the Native Fish Society. "It will contribute to the decline of salmon."

The issue ignited public anger last year when Fish and Wildlife officials were videotaped clubbing excess hatchery salmon to death. Surplus fish often are destroyed to prevent them from spawning with wild salmon. The second bill, House Bill 3809, would prevent officials from killing surplus fish until a scientific panel studies the issue. It has drawn less support than HB3014.

In determining how to best restore native runs, the Fish and Wildlife agency considers variables such as habitat and predator populations, said Kay Brown, policy coordinator in the Fish Division.

Rob Jones of the National Marine Fisheries Service's regional office in Portland said federal officials examine each hatchery individually, choosing solutions that can be defended through science. HB3014 appears inconsistent with most scientific data, he said.

If federal officials determined that the bill did not adequately protect Oregon's eight endangered salmon species, they could ignore it even if it became state law, Jones said. "Our approach has been basically that this one-size-fits-all legislation doesn't work," he said. "It doesn't work biologically, and it doesn't work for the public."

Tomoko Hosaka
GOP Leaders Push Plan to Restore Endangered Runs with Hatchery Fish
The Oregonian, May 23, 2001

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