Hatchery -vs- Native Debate

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we used to be blessed with an abundance of salmon and steelhead in our many rivers.  Hatchery and wild fish both, and in good numbers at times, subject to natures ebb and flow. Now what we find ourselves with is an abundance of fisheries though not a lot of fish.  It is by anyone’s standards, a large and complex problem. And the solution does not seem to be in sight. There are a good deal of visions out there in the world, but that is certainly not the same thing as solutions.
Some time ago, we decided to be involved in sorting through the abundant evidence regarding the “Great Wild versus Hatchery fish” debate in order to make some sense of what the “root” difficulties were and what the correct solution would be.  I, like most of us, have my own vision of cause and solution, but I felt that in order to be objective, one needs to disregard previous judgments, associations and idealistic concepts. Similar to starting from scratch, we needed to set aside much of what we believe we know and start with a new file cabinet. Take a good hard look at BOTH sides of the issue, base everything on good solid scientific research and make a determination according to where the evidence takes us.
It was back in the day that this Ben Franklin guy discovered electricity and things have gone downhill since then. Fish used to be incredibly abundant around the turn of the century, the one ending at the close of 1899 that is.  Then dam building became all the rage. Fish were unable to pass many of the new dams, and while fishing was commercially viable, we were taking more fish than were being spawned at the time. So hatcheries were brought to the forefront to supply a never ending stream of revenue and food for the masses. And based on this, an entire industry began to develop that included canneries, boat builders, commercial fishers, recreational fishers all the way down the line to even shuttle drivers on the local rivers. It has developed into an industry that today provides more jobs than the oil industry. And more experts it would seem.
“Can’t see the forest for the trees” is an apt phrase. And another one might be “can’t see out of the forest for the trees.”  The wild versus hatchery difficulty seems to be a multi faceted one that encompasses   many (and rightfully so) related issues. Listing the facts as we have determined them is actually quite simple.  Here are a few things we have discovered…
Dams and the resulting lack of wild fish passage.
The environmental state of the rivers will not allow our rivers to support the runs of years ago.
The hatchery fish are taking up resources needed by the wild fish.
Spawning redds are being populated by hatchery fish.
Hatchery and wild fish are mating and the resultant fish are flawed.
It is the management system.
It’s the commercial fishers.
It’s the tribes.
It’s the recreational anglers.
Or not. Feel free to add a few of your own.
We have seen evidence, studies and opinions that support all of the issues listed above. And we have seen the same thing that dismisses all of the above. We like wild fish in our system. Ultimately we would like to see only wild fish in the numbers that would sustain the current industry, or better. And we would like to see this accomplished in the correct manner. To us, the correct manner would be taking into consideration ALL facets of the fisheries and the industry that surrounds them. This is a subject area that is little discussed in the public domain. And it should be.
As an example, perhaps we should focus on the special interest groups (including clubs and organizations) and their goals of including no hatchery fish in future fish runs. Make no mistake; we are in favor of wild fish. They should be protected and encouraged. Some special interest groups have decided (and they have their own good reasons) that hatcheries need to be eliminated, regardless of the price to be paid. But herein lays yet another difficulty. There are some who feel that special interest groups tend to solicit (at least some) support for their groups through donations from those who are in the industry, but when acting in a manner they feel justified, these is no consultation sought from those whose support is requested. We have not stated that the goals of wild fish advocates are incorrect, but we do question the methods.
Hold on! Please don’t burn the article yet…..
If you can step outside your own views for a moment and consider some other issues that we feel are related, perhaps we will be able to get together as a community and seek solutions that the majority feel are favorable for everyone involved. Almost sounds like a Democracy, does it not?  When any group or individual makes a decision without input from those that it will affect it tends to be thought of as self serving.  To put this plainly, if a group of concerned people get together and through a common bond decide to put and end to hatcheries without public preview, it usually appears to be self serving. And IF that group’s common bond is flyfishing then the fingers start to point and the “Elitist” word comes out. And if you belong to a group that feels that the issue needs no discussion with others, or worse, you don’t care about other’s opinions, you have just described elitism. And it reflects badly on others. And the worst issue? Instead of bringing more support from other members of the fishing community, there is a resultant further fracturing in that same community. What kind of force could the entire fishing TRADE bring to the table? Perhaps we all need to be invited……
We need common goals. We need solutions that enlist the help and concerns of ALL people that fish or earn a living from the resource. We need to stop enabling others to make decisions for us. We need to have common goals that the majority supports. To put it simply, we need to all be going in the same direction. Perhaps we need to shut down the hatcheries, perhaps not. More importantly, we need to address the correct issues. Deal with the negative ISSUES that are affecting wild fish. ALL the issues, not a select few.
We wish that wild fish were strong enough to support the recreational and the commercial fisheries and the associated business that are related. We know that this is not the case. Our goals should be to rectify all of the negative issues that our fisheries are facing. Some feel that it is wiser to only fight the battles that you can win, but you cannot win the battles that you do not fight. Our demographic for who should be enlisted in helping to keep our runs healthy and numerous should be everyone that fishes. This is not the politics of Republicans versus Democrats in congress and their difficulties in doing anything positive. This is about fishing, and everybody that holds a fishing license should be given the chance to be involved.

There is, we feel, a solution.  We all enjoy fishing and would not care to see this pastime eliminated. The recreational angler exists because they like to fish. This is the common goal that united many of us to become fishers. Because of this interest many small business were formed that cater to these very anglers. We have no desire to stress the economy with further unemployment. Nor do we wish to see anyone involved in the trade suffer as a result of the decisions of the few. The solution as we see it is to ELIMINATE the need for hatcheries… As good or bad as they may be judged in the future, if we eliminate the need, they will go away. Believe me, if the powers that be could stop the outgoing expense that supports the hatchery system, they will. 
The waters have been so stirred up that it is difficult to know what the truth is regarding wild versus hatchery fish. Simply picking a side and supporting it does not work for everyone out there. Some of us need information in order to support anything. When the fishery becomes depressed to the point that we are forced to stop fishing it is going to be too late to look back and say “Gee, perhaps the hatcheries had some good points after all.” We are the stewards of this planet, like it or not.  And that carries a big responsibility to the ecology and the resources here. And lest we forget…it includes all of us too.
We all fish the same waters…….

JM Jones

Posted by Jack on 05/28 at 10:59 AM in (0) CommentsPermalink
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