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Don't Count Hatchery Salmon as Wild,
House Members Tell Bush

by Les Blumenthal
The News Tribune, May 21, 2004

(AP Photo) President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton visited the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam near Burbank, Wa., last month. WASHINGTON - Seventy-five House members Thursday called for the Bush administration to drop its proposal to count hatchery raised salmon as wild stocks when considering federal protections for West Coast runs.

In a letter to the Department of Commerce, the lawmakers said the administration's proposed change runs counter to the findings of numerous independent scientists who have concluded hatchery fish are genetically different from wild salmon.

The lawmakers said hatcheries can help provide recreational, commercial and tribal fishing opportunities. But they said the change could "jeopardize wild salmon stocks under the false assumption that artificial propagation and supplementation are sufficient enough to bypass any need to protect, restore and conserve salmon habitat."

In drafting its new salmon policy, the administration is considering lumping together hatchery fish with their wild counterparts in deciding whether to protect runs under the Endangered Species Act. Hundreds of millions of hatchery-bred salmon are released into West Coast rivers and streams annually.

Administration officials, in a letter last week, sought to reassure lawmakers the new policy will not be used to drop federal protections for 25 of the 26 salmon runs listed as endangered or threatened. The status of the other run, mid-Columbia steelhead, has not been determined.

But lawmakers remained skeptical.

At a news conference, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Belfair) said the administration's proposal was irresponsible, arguing there were "dramatic genetic differences" between hatchery fish and wild ones. Dicks said the new salmon policy was hatched by administration officials with links to the timber industry who have never supported efforts to restore essential salmon habitat (see shifton.htm).

"I worry that by counting hatchery salmon, we will not be taking a true measure of the state of the aquatic environment and therefore we will not be certain whether we have done enough to sustain these wild salmon runs," he said.

Other lawmakers said that counting hatchery bred and wild salmon together was like counting "fish sticks" as wild salmon.

"It will impose a death sentence on wild fish," said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) adding that the proposal was a "backroom and sneaky deal" to overturn credible science.

Calling hatchery fish "salmon on steroids," Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Bainbridge Island) said fish bred in captivity depend on human intervention for their survival.

"Washington state and the rest of America deserve first-class salmon, not second-class salmon," he said.

Dicks said lawmakers were trying to open a dialogue with the administration on the hatchery issue.

"We are trying to work with them and give them a chance to do the right thing," he said. "But we preserve our options to take legislative action."

Of the 75 House members signing the letter, 70 were Democrats and five were Republicans.

Les Blumenthal
Don't Count Hatchery Salmon as Wild, House Members Tell Bush
The News Tribune, May 21, 2004

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