Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hatchery Junkies

I went to a very informative presentation the other night called "The High Cost of Hatcheries" presented by Native Fish Society and featuring Dylan Tomine. His research discovered how much it actually costs us taxpayers for these fish mills to run. Of course the opposition made all kinds of bold claims on social media about how they were going to fill the room and make their voices heard. In truth only about three people were there to challenge Dylan's research. Pretty typical for the gear and bait crowd and it just shows how, once again, they would rather talk tough on the internet but when push comes to shove they are as lazy and unmotivated a group as you would want to meet. It is small wonder why the Columbia River Gillnetters Association kicks their ass year after year. Bob Rees of Northwest Steelheaders did show and made his case for hatcheries in a passionate and polite way and I applaud him for it. If more sports angler groups were like Bob then maybe the fracture between conservation and sports fishing would be healed.
So I am once again bringing this post to the top for those of you that might be interested in the research I have done. I'm past the point, as I have mentioned many times on this blog, of caring what Northwest Steelhead Flunkies or the Three Rivers Sportsmen's Alliance think of me. This is a small blog....I mean really small! The biggest hits I get I when I piss someone off and it's pretty easy to do that. Funny thing is that as mad as I've apparently made these guys they never want to talk about it when I see them on the river bank.
Anyway friends and enemies the facts are out there. I don't make this stuff up. People a hell of a lot smarter than me have done years and years of research on the effect of hatchery programs have on wild salmon and steelhead.
I was researching the history of salmon hatcheries here in the Pacific northwest and you might be surprised that history goes back a long ways.
They go as far back as the late 1800's as a matter of fact. Here is a brief history of the beginnings of Columbia River salmon hatcheries by author and fisheries scientist Jim Lichatowich.
In 1875, Spencer Baird, the United States Fish Commissioner, advised the commercial fishing industry that artificial propagation of salmon would be so successful it would eliminate the need to regulate harvest. Regulation was a controversial issue at the time, as the salmon runs were being fished heavily for economic gain but without effective regulation, and some scientists already were concerned that overfishing might prove catastrophic to the runs. In response to a request from the Oregon Legislature, Baird outlined the problems he saw for the salmon industry: 1) excessive fishing; 2) dams; and 3) altered habitat. Baird believed each of these problems could be resolved through artificial propagation of fish. That is, sufficient numbers of fish could be produced in hatcheries to satisfy the demand of commercial fishers, hatcheries could be located on tributaries of the Columbia where the fish would not have to pass dams on their way to the ocean as juveniles or back from the ocean as adults, and altered natural habitats would be of minor consequence because so many fish would be spawned artificially at the hatcheries. 
Sounds pretty simplistic doesn't it? Remember that all of this took place before the Columbia river hydro-electric dams were built and needless to say they changed the game completely.
Lichatowich goes on to say...
In reality, there was no critical examination of the impacts of hatcheries on wild fish. The extent of success or failure simply was not known. Few questioned the opinion of the U.S. Fish Commission, even though it was hardly unbiased on the question and even though, at the time, only two hatcheries were operating on the West Coast. It did not matter. Hatcheries were political tools to assuage powerful fishing interests as much as they were fish farms. Hatcheries produced fish; fish produced commercial fishing opportunities; fishing opportunities put people to work. Hatchery fish even were planted in some rivers to win political favor from elected officials.
Fast forward to 1938 and many of the dams were being built. The dams acted as a barricade to the upstream migration of spawning adult salmon and blocked the downstream migration of ocean going salmon smolt.
The solution to this? The Mitchell Act.
Simply put the Mitchell Act was put in place by the US Congress to mitigate for the loss of those salmon caused by the dams.
In the years since the Mitchell Act came to be we became addicted to the hatchery product! Not only commercially but recreational as well. We got so used to mega returns of salmon that in truth we became, in druggie vernacular, strung out on hatchery salmon like a junkie is strung out on heroin.
Sports anglers came to Oregon in the millions to experience the legendary runs of Chinook and coho salmon. Sports fishing fleets filled marinas from Coos Bay to Warrenton and up the Columbia in search of a salmonid bonanza. Huge commercial fleets plied their trade in the ocean and into the Columbia itself.
There seemed to be no end to the salmon cornucopia and the economies of communities on the lower Columbia and along the coast were driven by the returning salmon.
Of course the wild spawning Chinook and coho, along with wild steelhead got lost in the boom and little notice was given to this until it was too late.
The old cliché of "What goes up must come down" paid a visit to this party and the runs, both wild and hatchery, crashed and the salmon orgy was over. The wild salmon and steelhead runs were damaged beyond repair and no longer could state fish and wildlife agencies blitz the Columbia with hatchery smolt because of budget constraints and the Endangered Species Act.
Unfortunately the salmon appetite of the commercial and sports fishermen was not sated. The rancor and posturing of both groups became heated to the point of near violence because neither wanted to give ground and do what is right for the resource.
These "Salmon Wars" continue to this very day with a lot of finger pointing and political maneuvering. Wild salmon and their habitat are still kicked to the curb in the name of fair allocation.
I've distanced myself from these "wars". I like to compare it to a couple of selfish brothers  fighting for the last pork chop at the dinner table. A few  groups have come on the scene saying they are going to save the wild salmon...bullshit! Sure they want to save the salmon from the greedy gill nets only so they can have more for themselves.I would invite any of you to attend public meetings where the subject of catch allocations is the topic. You will see greed and base human nature like you have probably never seen before.
True conservation groups, like Native Fish Society, and their efforts have been vilified in the process.
The hatchery system will be with us for as long as there is a salmon left to fight over. Minimal protections for wild salmon and steelhead will continue to be compromised and watered down for the "best interest of the angling sport" and for the sake of "Angling opportunities"
"Angling opportunities" is a clever euphemism used by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for maximum exploitation of a dwindling supply of fish in order to sell licenses to support a bloated bureaucracy like ODFW. Past winters have seen some decent returns of hatchery steelhead into the Columbia and coastal rivers of this state but it also saw a orgy of greed, ignorance and repulsive behavior by so call sports fishermen.
When will it all come crashing down in an Armageddon of user groups? Maybe next year, maybe not in my lifetime but you can bet it will come crashing down eventually if things don't change. It may not be one cataclysmic crash but a death by a thousand tiny cuts.
Sensible hatchery reform is needed! I am not talking an ending of hatchery salmon and steelhead but a common sense approach to filling the need for a recreational harvest and wild salmonid conservation.
Until that happens we are doing little more than treading water.

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