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Diverse Groups Come Together
on Hatchery 'White Paper'

by Wil Phinney
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 11, 2002

A Citizens' Forum pledged to consensus building will present a conceptual "White Paper" that supports hatchery supplementation as a tool for rebuilding salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.

The diverse group, which has been meeting since its organization in February of 2001, was the outgrowth of meetings started in 1999 between staff and policy makers of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The Citizens' Forum on Oct. 16 in Portland will publicly introduce itself and present its "White Paper on Hatcheries and Salmon Recovery" to Bob Lohn, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Members of the Forum this week are seeking endorsements for the White Paper, which says "Genetic issues are the single greatest roadblock to the use of hatcheries as a recovery and mitigation tool." Salmon recovery efforts, the paper's authors say, have "become mired in the continuing debate regarding the relative merits of 'hatchery vs. wild.'"

"Extinction is not an option that we will accept," the White Paper says. "Living museum remnants of once great salmon runs are not an option that we will accept. Continued degradation of the economic and spiritual quality of salmon-dependent communities is not an option. Valuable tools designed to prevent extinction and provide abundance must not be eliminated."

Endorsements already have been obtained from industries represented by Forum members, including grain groups, ports, electric cooperatives and environmental organizations, as well as the approximately 10,000-member Washington Association of Realtors.

Lynne Chamberlain-Buchanan of Milton-Freewater, the environmental liaison for the Oregon Wheat Growers League who also represents wheat growers in Washington and Idaho, said the White Paper will be presented soon to the Northwest congressional delegation.

"We are hoping that with a groundswell of support, politicians will see this as the effort of citizens," Chamberlain-Buchanan said. "People are tired of the embittered activities going on. We're not trying to predict science, just present a practical concept that works for this region."

Gary Burke, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Umatilla Tribes, said the Forum allows participants to debate the issues and "at least know where people stand." The work coming out of the monthly meetings can be used, he said, to build trust and create partnerships.

Other members of the Forum include Bruce Buckmaster, president, Bio-Oregon, Inc., and member of Salmon For All, Warrenton, Ore.; Steve Eldrige, general manager, Umatilla Electric Cooperative, Hermiston, Ore.; Jerry Grossnickle, chief executive officer, Bernert Barge Lines, Portland; David Leslie, executive director, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Portland; Bill Mulligan, president, Three Rivers Timber, Inc., Kamiah, Idaho; Dennis Richey, executive director, Oregon Anglers, West Linn, Ore.; and Norm Semanko, executive director, Idaho Water Users Association, Boise.

"Our purpose was not to design another piece of the regional salmon recovery puzzle that fits nicely on the organizational chart," says the Forum's initial statement. "It was to design a process that is led by the citizens of the region, suits our needs and satisfies our shared values. Past efforts have all been led by government or by responses to litigation; we are pursuing a different model, hoping to harness the creative abilities of the stakeholders and citizens of the region to accomplish what has thus far eluded the other processes: create a biologically effective and economically rational strategy for salmon recovery that has the support and input of stakeholders."

The White Paper is the Forum's first public document. It characterizes the "hatchery vs. wild" debate as a "thinly disguised attempt to advance unspoken agendas such as harvest restriction and habitat restoration."

"Hatcheries cannot and should not be considered a panacea for salmon recovery," the White Paper states. "Countless other impediments are unaffected by hatchery construction or operation. The reality of our current situation requires that all available tools for the rebuilding of anadromous fish stocks should be available for use. Hatcheries are one such tool. Arguments that discourage their use in a biologically and genetically responsible manner are ill-advised and short-sighted."

The responsible use of hatcheries is necessary, the Citizens' Forum contends, "to forestall continued extinction and to maintain the livelihoods of communities which are dependent upon harvestable salmon for their spiritual and economic well being."

According to the White Paper, salmon recovery plans that oppose to the use of hatcheries base their objections on a four-fold premise:

  1. Salmon and steelhead, which are native to a watershed, have evolved over centuries to be ideally suited to survive within that unique environment;
  2. Hatchery-reared juvenile salmonids are genetically inferior and physically weaker than their 'wild' brethren;
  3. Upon release, hatchery fish compete with fish spawned in-stream and negatively impact the survivability of the 'wild' offspring, and;
  4. Interbreeding between hatchery and wild stocks will weaken the wild fish and reduce the likelihood of recovery.

"No one denies the amazing impact of natural selection," the White Paper argues. "Evolution fine-tunes characteristics necessary for survival and is a basic requirement for all species. The biological mechanism resulting in slow alteration of genetics would be a seemingly inarguable game-ending point in favor of anti-hatchery advocates. A perfectly evolved animal living in a distinct and discrete environment is clearly the ideal.

"The fallacy of using this argument to discourage the use of hatcheries rests in the environment itself. How many watersheds within the Columbia Basin have survived into this century unaltered? What salmonid species has had the necessary generations to evolve to match today's ecosystem niche?

"The clear answer to survival of any salmon or steelhead within the Columbia Basin lies within the fish themselves. The resiliency and adaptability of these magnificent creatures have allowed the survival of the species in the face of untold harm and unimaginable loss. Even the most biased observer of hatchery-bred salmon adults spawning in countless watersheds could not deny that resiliency and adaptability are not removed at the hatchery."

Continuing, the White Paper says: "Studies indicating higher adult return percentages from smolts originating in-stream as opposed to smolts released from a hatchery are used to illustrate the inherent superiority of 'wild' fish. In reality, these studies highlight a totally different effect. Fish culturists are very aware that hatchery practices protect large numbers of juveniles that would not survive in the stream environment. Consequently, a high percentage of hatchery-reared smolts are unable to meet the natural challenges presented upon release. It is a fact that nature will not be denied. Natural mortality that is delayed in the hatchery setting is accelerated upon release. We are unaware of any study comparing the relative survivability of eggs hatched in-stream versus those within a hatchery. Pending the results of such a study, we will discount this erroneously drawn conclusion of the anti-hatchery forces.

"The inconsistency of supposedly weak hatchery smolts out-competing their stream-hatched brethren is curious in itself. It is unclear how an unfit animal forces a specifically evolved, fit animal out of its niche environment. The competition argument also fails to account for fish behavior following smoltification. The remarkable metamorphosis of smoltification triggers the first act of anadromy. A hardwired biological imperative directs smolts to begin their seaward journey. Properly sized hatchery reared fish released at optimal times will treat the waterway as a migration corridor rather than a feeding environment."

Genetic arguments, the White Paper claims, are hindering the use of hatcheries as a recovery and mitigation tool.

"We do not subscribe to the idea that 'a fish is a fish.' However, we can all agree that no fish is no fish," the White Paper says. "Genetic integrity is a basic principle that must be preserved within the recovery effort. The use of genetic strains native to watersheds as parent stock should be mandated whenever such fish still exist. Successful restocking of many endangered species has employed artificial habitat. We advocate continuing the model for salmonids in the Pacific Northwest. Interbreeding ceases to be a concern when genetic integrity is maintained. We support a program of genetic selection that most clearly matches the indigenous salmon population for those fish runs that have been extirpated."

In creating the Forum more than two years ago, the Oregon Wheat Growers League, led by Chamberlain-Buchanan, and the Umatilla Tribes, led by Antone Minthorn, former chairman of the Tribes' Board of Trustees, developed a set of shared values and mutual salmon-recovery goals. The values document was ratified by the tribes, the OWGL, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

"The ultimate goal of the process is to get beyond posturing and rhetoric and get the region started on meaningful salmon recovery that preserves the values of the citizens who live here, and the group will be free to pursue that aim in any way they see fit," a Forum information paper states. "Rather than create another plan to decorate a shelf, we will advance what comes out of the process."

In 2000, the Umatilla's Board of Trustees met with board members from Oregon, Washington and Idaho wheat growers' leagues.

"We found out we had more in common than in diversity," said Chamberlain-Buchanan. "We decided not to look at adversity, but at commonalties. We opened up and realized it was our attitudes, that we both thought the other was the bad guy. We looked at family values, culture and the fact we wanted our children to grow up here and to have jobs. And we thought that if we believe this way and can get along, maybe others can too."

Wil Phinney
Diverse Groups Come Together on Hatchery 'White Paper'
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 11, 2002

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