There’s growing support for a region-wide strategy to manage the Northwest’s many salmon hatcheries. A science panel, tribal representatives, and state officials debated Tuesday what hatcheries should be used for and what they should avoid.
Salmon hatcheries are controversial, but there’s one thing that various officials and experts agree on: hatchery fish are not perfect replacements for wild fish.
Hatcheries have been used for decades along the Columbia River to build up fish populations that were decimated by the hydroelectric dams. Some have been run better than others and with very different goals in mind.
Studies continue to raise questions about genetics and other problems hatchery fish can present.
Officials, like Tony Grover with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, are now looking at getting hatchery managers to use the same measurement and evaluation tools. That’s so they can see how they’re performing.
“What are the basic components of a basin-wide artificial production monitoring scheme?” Grover asks.
Coming up with better metrics is generally supported. But any discussion of measuring progress toward a goal immediately triggers a debate around what the goal is.
Rich Carmichael with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says there’s one instance when most agree hatcheries really help.
“Cases where you have really severely depressed populations that’ll go extinct in the short-term, if you don’t intervene.”
And then there are fish populations on the opposite end of the spectrum. Carmichael says most agree that hatcheries aren’t necessary with robust fish populations.
“It’s those populations that reside in the middle, that have moderate risk of extinction and we can’t get social values out of them because they’re not exploitable because of their productivity. There’s a lot of uncertainty associated with supplementation, I don’t think we do have the answer.”
“Supplementation” is another way of saying that hatcheries can be more than just rescue operations. They can be used to further boost populations. That’s an approach favored by Northwest tribes.
“Too many times, the question has been asked ‘What’s wrong with supplementation?’,” says Paul Lumley, the director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
He argues for the tribal approach: using hatcheries to boost fish abundance and not just when fish are on the brink of extinction.
Lumley says a recent power council report seemed to focus a lot of attention on that approach.
“It almost feels like we’re constantly under attack of defending our programs, trying to get them funded. I’m frankly getting really tired of the intense scrutiny of the tribal programs, when I don’t see that kind of scrutiny of other programs out there.”
The controversy and complexity of the hatchery issue forced the power council’s wildlife director to consider pushing back the next discussion of the issue from March, to as late as May.
Those discussions are meant to help the Bonneville Power Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set up a new hatchery review team.
Just sketching out that hatchery group’s marching orders is scheduled to take the rest of the year.
(This was first reported for opbnews.org.)
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