Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Hatcheries are an unavoidable fact here in the Pacific Northwest. Good, bad or indifferent they have been here for over 100 years and are likely here to stay for 100 more.
Some and probably most are glad that salmon, trout and steelhead hatcheries will always be with us. They mean a fish to take home for the grill and many ego pictures for the internet.
As for me I am in the minority about salmonid hatcheries. I think they have spelled the demise for many wild salmonids populations over the decades and science backs me up.
I can easily imagine fly fishing the rest of my years without hatchery fish but I know that will not happen.
So okay people want to eat a fresh hatchery trout or salmon from time to time and I do not really begrudge them of that since our license and tags sales pay for hatchery mitigation through the Mitchell Act.
Remember though,science tells us that throwing hatchery fish into a population of wild salmon and steelhead is detrimental to the wild fish. Salmon and steelhead are a resilient fish that can take a lot of abuse and still recover. There are two things, however, that they cannot and historically have not recovered from and that is hatchery influence, over harvest.
The hatchery salmonids compete for food, intermingle and spawn with their wild counterparts and dilute the wild genes of a population of wild salmon or steelhead.
We can even look at poor ocean conditions and know that wild salmonids have faced this in the past and came back.
When wild salmonids are over harvested, whether by commercial or sport interests then those are fish that will not come back to spawn.
When those fish do come back to spawn their wild genes are diluted when hatchery fish are allowed to stray into their spawning waters. If they do produce offsprings those offsprings must compete with larger hatchery smolt that are not only bigger but are more aggressive and even carnivorous. Smaller wild smolt cannot compete with them for what little food might be available in any given stream and are eaten by the larger smolt.
Some of you may look at this and wonder if I am just talking out of selfishness or making this information up...I'm not! Volumes have been written about the adverse effects of hatchery salmonids dumped into an area that has a population of wild salmonids.
If you get the warm fuzzies when you release a hatchery salmon or steelhead to show what a great friend you are to the fish all you have done is harm wild salmon or steelhead.
You paid a bunch of money for that hatchery fish so harvest the damn thing.
You might even say that we fly fishers are doing nothing more than "torturing" wild trout for our own selfish pleasure. I can only speak for my self on this absurd and ignorant claim. I know how to safely release the fish I hook. I have no need for that glory shot of my holding a wild fish out of water in order to show what a mighty angler I am. Those days are long gone! I know that there is a 100% mortality rate when a wild fish is clubbed to death like so many "sportsmen" would like to do.
I do know one thing though and comes from doing redd surveys the past few years. Wild salmon, stee;head and trout are disappearing..the numbers do not lie folks they are just not there in the numbers that they used to be.
Someone naively said that they though the little smolt that jump in the summer pools in coastal river are jumping for joy. Well that gives them intelligence they just don't have and that sounds like something PETA would say.
I would be willing to bet that some of those wild smolt are jumping, not from joy,but to get away from over sized hatchery smolt that want to eat them.
Please harvest ALL hatchery fish you encounter! If it's missing an adipose then kill it! You will be doing the wild salmon, steelhead and trout a huge favor.

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