Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

4 highs, 4 lows of hatcheries

Ecotrope | Aug. 9, 2010 12:30 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:47 p.m.

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Here’s a puzzle for you: How do you protect wild fish from their own hatchery spawn?

Evidence shows the hatchery fish produced to offset environmental impacts to wild salmon and steelhead are actually harming their wild relatives. Very sticky situation.

A new draft report from the National Marine Fisheries Service suggests cutting hatchery production in the 178 programs supplying the Columbia, Willamette and Snake rivers could help protect wild salmon and steelhead species. The Oregonian has a good summary of the report. Bottom line: the feds are considering stripping the basin of $11 million to $16 million in Mitchell Act funds for hatcheries as one of four possible management options (another option: keep things as they are).

Let’s weigh some pros and cons.

Four highs of hatcheries:

  1. The taste: Commercial or sport-caught, salmon and steelhead are awfully good eats. With the toughest of the proposed hatchery program cuts, catch allowances would be halved.
  2. The nutrients: High volumes of hatchery fish provide nutrients for ecosystems and food for killer whales, birds and sea lions.
  3. The bucks: Columbia River Basin hatcheries on the whole cost $79.5 million a year and bring in $220 million in direct and indirect economic benefits.
  4. The padding: Hatchery fish bear the brunt of predation and, in effect, insulate many wild fish from their enemies.

Four lows:

  1. Habitat and food competition: Hatchery and wild fish have to share both. There’s only so much to go around.
  2. Out of control interbreeding: When hatchery fish that stray from hatcheries breed with wild fish, the result is a weaker stock that’s less likely to survive.
  3. Disease: Hatchery fish are more susceptible to disease that they can then spread to wild fish.
  4. Cannibals! In some cases, the hatchery fish actually prey on the wild fish.

The lists could go on and on. What would you add?

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