Hatchery Fish are No Substitute for Wildby Bob KrummEditors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, December 15, 2004
Idaho's once outstanding wild steelhead and salmon runs, although in dramatic decline over recent decades, still contribute nearly $200 million a year in economic value to the state and thousands of hours of fishing enjoyment. In addition, the fish are an extremely important component of a healthy ecosystem.
The Idaho Water Users Association, and others who claim hatchery-produced fish are the same as their wild cousins, need to study the science and verify their sources of information.
Recently Steve Burke asked, "Who is it that determines that the offspring of (hatchery fish) are so inferior to wild fish?"
The list of "who" is far too large to list all the reputable scientists who know the differences between hatchery and wild fish, but here are a few: Ransom A. Meyers (Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia); Simon A. Levin (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.); Russell Lande (Department of Biology, University of California-San Diego); Frances C. James (Department of Biological Science, Florida State University); William W. Murdoch (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Calif.) and Robert T. Paine (Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle).
If Mr. Burke and others would quit getting their science from the Idaho Water Users Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau, barge operators on the lower Snake River, utility companies, and the like, they would soon learn that hatchery fish alone cannot sustain a long-term viable population of salmon and steelhead. The above scientists in a recent report state: "Inevitably, hatchery brood stock show domestication effects, genetic adaptations to hatchery environments that are generally maladaptive in the wild. Hatchery fish usually have poor survival in the wild and altered morphology, migration and feeding behavior. On release, hatchery fish, which are typically larger, compete with wild fish. Their high local abundance may mask habitat degradation, enhance predator populations, and allow fishing exploitation to increase, with concomitant of wild fish.
"The absence of imprinting to the natal stream leads to greater (migratory) straying rates, and that spreads genes not adapted locally. Also, hybrids have poor viability, which may take two generations to be detected. Much evidence exists that hatcheries cannot maintain wild salmon populations indefinitely."
When folks like Norm Semanko, of the Idaho Water Users Association, start disseminating science in paid radio advertisements and guest opinion pieces about salmon and steelhead, the public should question his facts and his motives. The association is not a friend to salmon and steelhead.
Unfortunately, if hatchery salmon and steelhead replace the remaining wild fish, federal protection for Idaho's steelhead and salmon will evaporate and the habitat will suffer. In addition, very few politicians in the Pacific Northwest are friends of the fish. As a result, hatchery production of fish could become a very low priority in the federal budget. If so, fishing for hatchery or wild salmon and steelhead would be on a faster downhill slide. Even if hatchery funding were to stay level or increase, many of the best scientists are convinced that fish populations could not be sustained.
So, fishermen, outfitters and merchants, if you think hatchery fish are the answer, be careful what you ask for. There are many groups that prefer water exploitation to salmon recovery.
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