We Must Not Permit Thisby Editors
The Daily Astorian, January 30, 2006
White House plan to close hatcheries reneges on a historic promise
The White House proposal to cut salmon fishing while closing some hatcheries is the latest vexing but predictable retreat from firm commitments the nation made to fishing communities when dams began to wreck natural salmon runs.
Hatcheries, fish ladders and other efforts to compensate for the destruction of free-flowing rivers are artificial and imperfect. We can't know for certain how salmon runs would have prospered without dams, but in nations where dams were built without hatcheries, salmon virtually ceased to exist. Hatcheries are insurance. And they've steadily improved. Hatchery practices have come a long way in terms of rearing smolts able to prosper after release.
In recent years, hatcheries have become controversial, with some observers suggesting they interfere with salmon recovery in various ways, for example by forcing naturally spawning fish to compete for scarce food and habitat with excessive numbers of genetically weaker hatchery fish. But scientific evidence is ambiguous when it comes to proving hatcheries cause systemic problems for salmon recovery.
Closing hatcheries should be approached with great caution. Much as the government might want to get out of the salmon business, salmon runs assisted by hatcheries are far preferable to salmon runs that are substantially reduced or driven into extinction.
Upriver industrial interests have long pushed for additional cuts in already sharply reduced commercial and sport salmon fishing opportunities. These industries' argument that they are being asked to shoulder too much of the burden of preserving and recovering salmon runs is highly disingenuous. They conveniently overlook the enormous sacrifices already made by fishing communities like Astoria and Ilwaco, where an economy and culture have been hammered down to virtually nothing by political choices that favor farming and power generation over fishing. We have already given up too much to be now expected to quietly give up what little is left.
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations has it right when he says "The fundamental issue is what gives the biggest bang for the buck in salmon restoration. What the administration is doing is pointing the finger at the victims of salmon declines -- that is, the fishing-dependent communities whose economy is being devastated. Hatcheries were intended to replace habitat behind dams. If they close all the hatcheries, we want some dams down, too."
In their desperation to avoid meaningful long-term changes in Columbia-Snake River hydro operations, the White House and its allies in Congress want to break faith with the very people who have the greatest stake in salmon survival, the fishermen who both cherish and catch them. We must not permit this.
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