Wild Salmon ???

Under Construction

The Wild Salmon Myth and Hoax Continues:
We want to grow and prosper like everyone else, but " Conservation Biologist " keep us Endangered and Threatened by continuing to club our family members to death.

We did not club to death, hatchery Condors, hatchery Bald Eagles, hatchery Buffalo, hatchery Grizzly Bears, hatchery Spotted Owls, hatchery Panda Bears, etc, etc,  So why are we contentiously slaughtering hatchery Salmon???  " 

Our Wild Salmon are Hatchery Salmon.
     The Following are more examples of the " Wild Salmon Myth and Hoax. "  First of all, there are no real " Wild Salmon " in the Pacific Northwest.  Salmon have all been cross breeding with hatchery stocks and escaped farmed salmon stocks for over 100 years now.  It is impossible to keep all the different genetic strains totally separated,  salmon spend the vast majority of there life in the ocean in which we have no control over.   The raising, training and learned behavioral traits from a hatchery salmon are different then a river spawned salmon, but they are genetically and biologically all one and the same.  Bottom line, if a hatchery fish returns to spawn, it is good evidence of just how strong and healthy the hatchery fish actually are, and they are not inferior as many suggest.  If that were the case then there would hardly be any hatchery fish that would return to spawn.  Because of this relationship, hatchery fish should be counted as they are on the Atlantic Coast.  On the Atlantic Coast, a hatchery fish that survives and returns to spawn is counted as a " Wild Salmon.  In the Pacific Northwest the tribes consider any returning hatchery fish a " Wild Salmon ".  However the National marine Fisheries Service says it must be a second generation returning hatchery fish before it is considered a " Wild Salmon ".  Currently returning hatchery fish are not counted in the Pacific Northwest.  I certainly would not count farmed salmon, whoever I do believe we should count all hatchery fish and if they were counted the majority of salmon that are listed as threatened or endangered would be removed from the Endangered Species Act.  Currently the way we tell a hatchery salmon from a " Wild Salmon " is to chip the dorsal fin when it leaves the hatchery to make this distinction.

"  The Making of an Endangered Species, and how you keep it Endangered.  "
Getting Information from the estate of the late Senator Bob Morton.

The Role of Hatcheries in Pacific Salmon Management White Paper

         by Donald F. Amend, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret.) 
              Jim Lannan, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret.)
              William J. McNeil, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret)

Wild Pacific salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest  have been in a state of general decline since the late19th century, primarily due to the burgeoning human population growth in this region with attendant loss of natural spawning and rearing habitat from logging, construction of hydroelectric dams, and agricultural and forestry practices. In more recent years, factors such as declining biological productivity in the North Pacific Ocean, over-exploitation in mixed stock fisheries and the high seas gill net fishery, and greatly increased populations of predators, especially seals and sea lions, have also played a role.

It has long been recognized that due to the above factors, declining wild spawning and rearing habitat would support only a minimal recreational and commercial fishery on naturally reproducing stocks. Although hatcheries are not a cure-all by any means, they have historically provided a very popular, and internationally used method of mitigating this problem and today many Pacific Salmon runs consist mostly of hatchery fish. Thus, for nearly a century, hatcheries have successfully accomplished the twin goals of (1) helping to compensate for declining naturally spawning populations, and (2) supporting a sustainable recreational and commercial fishery.

Recently, however, hatcheries have come under attack by some who would apparently prefer to have small, but completely wild, salmon/steelhead populations that would perpetuate themselves solely by natural reproduction. This would be accomplished by eliminating hatcheries, and restoring Pacific Northwest rivers and lakes to 19th century conditions by breaching hydroelectric dams, and by greatly reducing forestry and agriculture. These draconian measures would have significant negative social and economic impacts.

To promote this agenda, hatchery opponents typically raise theoretical issues about the genetic fitness of hatchery vs. "wild" fish based on assertions that hatchery reared salmon are genetically adapted to sheltered conditions during their few months of hatchery rearing before they migrate to the ocean. They are thus said to be inferior to wild fish that have adapted to the harsher conditions in rivers and streams where they hatch and rear before migrating to the ocean. The fact that both hatchery and wild fish are acted upon by the same evolutionary forces during the majority of their life cycle while they live in the ocean is usually conveniently ignored.

Another widespread perception is that salmon propagated in hatcheries, either for the purpose of restoring sustainable fish populations or boosting fish production for harvest, will adversely affect the genetic diversity and fitness of wild fish populations. However, this assumption is clouded by uncertainty leaving it open to interpretations based on opinion and philosophical perspective (Williamson, 2001). Nevertheless, it has become dogma accepted as true by many fisheries biologists and managers. Campton (1995) has provided a thoughtful overview of this perception and concludes that there have been too few well-designed studies to provide the hard data needed to test its assumptions.

Thus, fish hatched and reared in hatcheries are alleged to have tainted the gene pool of wild stocks when they intermingle and spawn naturally with them upon their return from the ocean - as many of them do. Also, most of the attack on hatchery salmon is based on comparisons between divergent stocks of fish, which is not a true comparison between wild and hatchery fish from the same stock.

Another major element of contention about the use of salmon hatcheries is the question of whether hatchery reared salmon differ too much genetically from naturally spawning, "wild" salmon. Disagreement on this subject is partly semantic, because the term "genetic difference" is used in different contexts when referring to the individual and population levels of biological organization. Surprisingly, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allows the term "species" to be legally used to describe "full species," "subspecies" or "distinct population segments" of full species. Because salmon/steelhead populations that spawn in one part of a watershed may not commonly interbreed with those that spawn in other parts of the same watershed, the 6 separate species of salmon (chinook, coho, sockeye, etc.) are divisible into hundreds of individual stocks of fish; each with certain morphological and physiological differences. 

Regardless of the legal definition of species allowed by the ESA, the gene remains the fundamental unit of heredity. All members of a species are endowed with the same set of genes. A gene pool is the totality of genetic material possessed by a species and contains the instructions for all the inherited traits that are the genetic resources of the species. When these genetic resources are lost from a species gene pool, they cannot be restored. Many wild salmon/steelhead populations are now so small that they retain very little genetic diversity. It is now entirely possible that there is greater genetic diversity in hatchery salmon populations than in some wild populations

The term "allele" refers to different forms of a gene. For example, the blood types A, B and 0 are alleles of a single gene. At the individual fish level, two fish are genetically different if one individual possess an allele or alleles that the other does not. Therefore, the statement "hatchery fish are genetically different from wild fish" is true if and only if there is an allele or alleles that occurs only in hatchery-bred fish, and a complimentary allele or alleles that occur only in "wild", naturally spawned fish. Such unique alleles would be tremendously important. However, no such alleles are known to exist, and probably do not exist in nature. 

All hatchery-reared salmon/steelhead are ultimately descended from naturally spawning "wild" fish, and possess all the genes found in "wild" fish. There is no known genetic mechanism that would result in the creation of an allele found only in artificially propagated hatchery fish. Further, there is no known mechanism that would preclude the hatchery allele, if one existed, from being introduced into naturally spawning populations when fish of hatchery origin spawn naturally as many of them do.

Thus, at the individual fish level, there is no genetic difference between hatchery-bred and naturally-spawned salmon. At the population level, there may be differences in the frequencies of inherited traits between populations. Similar differences in the frequencies of inherited traits can also be observed between naturally spawning populations and between different hatchery populations as well as between hatchery and wild populations. These differences in frequencies are referred to as genetic differences because they describe variation in the organization of genetic material among populations. An example of this type of variation in human populations would be different frequencies of blue-eyed people in different geographic locations. Unfortunately, some workers have erroneously interpreted gene frequency differences to be adaptive, when there is no evidence that this is the case. A plausible and probable alternate explanation is that gene frequency differences result from small founding populations and limited gene flow. In this case, no (adaptive) selection is necessary. Again, hatchery fish are not genetically different, as a class, from "wild'' fish even though the endangered species act allows them to be labeled as such.  

The purpose of the present document is not to say that naturally spawning salmon are not needed. Healthy, naturally spawning salmon populations are a national treasure. We are also not prepared to state that all salmon conservation problems can be solved with hatchery-reared salmon. There have been poor hatchery practices in the past and some hatcheries were not originally sited on a sound biological basis. What is needed is a biologically sound blend of both hatchery and wild fish based on known scientific facts. This will assist the public, which has the ultimate say in the matter, in deciding on the difficult trade-off required for the conservation and management of viable Pacific Salmon and Steelhead populations for future generations. 

In summary, salmon and steelhead hatcheries have historically had the twin goals of (1) helping to recover and conserve natural spawning populations, and (2) supporting sustainable commercial, recreational, subsistence, and ceremonial fisheries. Most hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have been operating for many decades and have generally been very successful in producing fish for harvest and compensating for declines in wild salmon populations. Hatcheries are critical to maintaining future recreational and commercial fishing in the Pacific Ocean and in meeting Treaty harvest obligations. Like it or not, hatchery populations now comprise a major component of Pacific salmon/steelhead species gene pools. This year (2001) for example, 60-80% of salmon that will be harvested originated in state, federal, and Tribal hatcheries. Given the additional 20-40 million in human population growth predicted for the Pacific Northwest in coming decades, it is almost certain that the downward trend in purely wild salmon populations will continue. For example, the east coast of the US, Europe, China, Japan, and Korea formerly supported large populations of purely wild salmon. They no longer do so and it is unlikely they will ever do so again (Lackey, 2001).  

Not only did today's hatchery salmon originate from the eggs and sperm of naturally reproducing salmon populations, hatchery produced fish have been thriving and returning to Pacific Northwest Rivers in unprecedented numbers. Unfortunately, these same hatchery fish are now being labeled genetically inferior, hunted down and clubbed, and their eggs sold as fish bait. There is a very real danger that present anti-hatchery policies will, if pursued, reduce salmon/steelhead populations to the point that there will be no significant recreational or commercial fishing for decades to come. In addition, the deliberate destruction of these hatchery populations by natural resource management agencies may actually be destroying genetic material needed for the continued health of salmon populations in general. Once genetic material is lost from a species gene pool, it can never be recovered.  The populations of some remaining "wild" fish are now so small that their genetic diversity has been reduced to the point that they may be unable to grow sufficiently without an infusion of genetic material from hatchery fish. 

Although genetic management of naturally spawning fish populations is not possible, inherited traits in hatchery salmon populations can be readily adjusted to suit management goals and objectives. Establishing and maintaining hatchery populations with a prescribed pattern of life history variation similar or identical to the naturally spawning populations with which they may interbreed is an attainable management goal that could ameliorate concerns about detrimental interactions.  

At the present time, hatchery runs are thriving and must not be destroyed. Hatchery fish that are now being wasted are a resource that should be used proactively in recovery efforts. As one example, surplus adult salmon could be outplanted in barren habitats. This would be unsuccessful in some cases but would yield positive results in others. Any success would be highly cost effective because the fish that already exist are going to waste. Meanwhile, "had good salmon fishing lately -- Thank Hatcheries."  

Donald F. Amend, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret.) 
Jim Lannan, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret.)
William J. McNeil, Ph.D. (Fisheries Biologist, Ret)

Senator Bob Morton, was a huge proponent of the truth about Salmon.

Sen. Bob Morton, served 22 years in the state legislature, died Friday Aug 10, 2015 at age 81.

Morton was a Republican, known for his down-to-earth style of speaking, and defense of rural eastern Washington’s lifestyle.  The following is some of his work.

  Every year traps are set at Wells Dam to catch salmon for spawning for several different hatcheries.   This year some salmon that went to the Winthrop Hatchery originally came form the Entiat Hatchery. These are adult hatchery salmon that are ready to spawn who decided not to go home to the Entiat Hatchery but decided to go further up river to Wells Dam ( Wells Dam is near Paterous and is about 40 miles further up stream from Entiat), and then they were transported with others to the Winthrop Fish Hatchery (about 40 miles further upstream).   At this point the State Department of Game checked the fish and found that they were not their fish and called upon NMFS to make a determination on what to do with the fish. NMFS told the State Department of Game to kill and bury the salmon, which they did.   At this point there are certainly allot of questions that need to be answered.  Why did NMFS make the decision to kill and bury the salmon, rather than to relocating them somewhere else where they could spawn?  Because it is their department policy.

The following information is from Senator Bob Morton 7th Legislative District in Washington State. 
 Senator Morton represents the residents of the Methow Valley (GROUND ZERO)

Sen. Bob Morton
PO Box 4047 Olympia, WA
E-Mail: morton_bo@leg.wa.gov
Website: http://www.leg.wa.gov/senate/src/members/morton.htm

Salmon Gram # 1

Let's reward epic journey of survival.

First in a series of salmon reports by Sen. Bob Notion. R-Orient WA.

      Last fall, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) ordered the destruction of more than 50 "Stray" salmon who came to spawn in the Methow River. As a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, a committee charged with helping restore our state's dwindling salmon runs, I was appalled at the callous way in which we handle our precious salmon species. It's no wonder we're having problems! Let's consider what those murdered salmon had to go through before their lives came to this tragic end.  In 1994, some Chinook spring run salmon hatched in the upper reaches of the Columbia River. Some were hatched in natural gravel in the stream and others were hatched and controlled by the hatchery. They made their way down the Columbia, over the dams, and past many predators who would have loved to make a meal of them.  Finally, they reached the mouth of the Columbia River at Rice Island. which is a man-made island created from the dredges of the Columbia. At that point, they faced a great test of their survival as they passed by thousands of protected Caspian Terns and Cormorants who feast off salmon fry by the tens of thousands, Then the salmon entered the mighty ocean where they faced even more natural predators. Seals and sea lions cat our salmon by the hundreds of pounds a day. They traveled up the Washington coast, the British Columbia coast, and into what I call the "Arch of the Salmon."  They went along the Alaskan Coast, down the Aleutian chain, and finally they ended up in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean waters.  By then, these salmon were a fair size. Soon they were beckoned back home to spawn, so they turned around and started to return home along the "Arch of the Salmon," traveling past foreign nets as long as 30 miles. The US Coast Guard admits these nets still exist despite the fact that we have an international agreement banning the use of them.  Our salmon negotiated these nets and all the other predators until they ended up approaching the mouth of the Columbia again.  Finally, they started back up the fresh waters of the Columbia. As they began their journey back to spawn in the upper reaches of the Columbia, they had to navigate past nine hydroelectric dams. They also had to make it past roughly 350 tribal nets, some as long as 400 feet.  Once they got past the remaining dams, they came to rest in a pool behind one of these dams. Let's choose the Rocky Reach Dam.  At this point, the salmon were getting anxious to get up to their spawning grounds. Nature just directs them that way.  A buck salmon fell in love with a doe and said, "It's beautiful up in the Methow. Come on to my house."  He talks the doe into doing that and, while she may have originally come from the Entiat or the Icicle, she followed her partner.      Unfortunately, after all their travels, this couple ran into trouble at the Wells Dam.  Because she originated somewhere else, the doe was regarded as a stray then killed and destroyed. The buck was also destroyed because the hatchery had already met NMFS' quota for the number of hatchery fish allowed to return to that watershed.  On Sept. 23, 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported to NMFS the number of spring Chinook declared "surplus" and destroyed: Entiat: 231. Leavenworth: 709, and Methow: 34.  That's nearly 1,000 salmon murdered by the very agency charged with protecting them.  Washington taxpayers pay millions of dollars thinking our salmon will be allowed to return to the natural waters of the state. We also have utility ratepayers, who receive their power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and, for those in the Okanogan, from the Okanogan Public Utility District (PUD). These people pay roughly $ 13.80 for every $ 100 of their electricity bill for salmonoid restoration. Then, at the PUD facility at Wells Dam, they see these salmon killed and not allowed to continue into their native waters.  This is wrong and it's going on throughout the Northwest.  That's why I've sponsored Senate Bill 6320 to return some accountability to our states salmon restoration efforts and to attempt to increase accountability from the federal government.  When you consider what our mighty salmon have survived through their long and hard migration routes over five years, when you consider all the obstacles and predators they must overcome, by the time they come back to their native home, I regard them as one tough fish. Their offspring ought to be allowed to hatch and survive. To allow the continued massacre of these returning salmon is a tragedy.

Where's the logic in killing salmon that you are raising?

Spring Chinook collected in the Columbia River Basin (Washington Tributaries) in 1999

US. Fish and Wildlife Service facilities:

 Hatchery                                 Total Collected                       Spawned                       Destroyed

 Entiat NFH                                                   724                                 459                                      265

 Leavenworth NFH                                  1,744                              1,000                                      744

 Little White Salmon NFH                      4,264                                 804                                    2,702

 Carson NFH                                            3,728                                 955                                    2,773

 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife facilities:

 Methow SFH/                     

 Winthrop NFH                                          371                                   332                                         39

 TOTAL Washington State Columbia River Basin FISH KILL in 1999                            69523

 Source: NMPS, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Under the current salmon "restoration process", the State Departments of Fish and Wildlife & NMFS are killing hatchery fish by the thousands:

 Oregon Agencies killed 20,708 salmon in 1998!

 During 1998, According to Oregon Fish and Wildlife and NMFS: 20,708 "surplus" salmonids were killed. This resulted in 19,389 pounds of wasted eggs or 48,472,500 eggs that did not get fertilized. At a hatchery fertilization rate of 90% (10 - 15% in the wild) that would be 43,625,250 baby fish. With an ocean return of just 1 %, returning fish would have been 436,252.

THE AGENCIES DECLARE hatchery fish inferior, so they must be destroyed before spawning in the wild, BUT the agencies are releasing 600,000 unmarked hatchery fish to "rebuild the wild runs" in Idaho.

 THE AGENCIES ALSO STATE that the 2nd generation offspring of hatchery fish allowed to spawn naturally are not genetically any, different from " wild fish".


Salmon Gram # 2.
By Sen. Bob Morton. 
Accountability Crucial in Saving State Salmon.

      Washington is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to salmon restoration and I've introduced a bill to turn things around.  As the ranking Republican member on the Senate Environmental Quality and Water Resources Committee, I want to improve salmon runs in the state by requiring additional accountability from both the state and the federal government.  In your last SalmonGram, we discussed the tragic slaughter of hatchery salmon in regional fisheries across the Northwest. State and federal biologists say they must kill "stray" or "surplus" fish based on hatchery policy.  Washington citizens are spending hard earned tax dollars and utility ratepayers are paying higher rates to save fish hatched in Washington in our hatcheries by our biologists. Washington fish should be able to travel and spawn anywhere in Washington without fear of destruction.    In a recent presentation to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, I showed a video of Oregon biologists clubbing adult fish to death at a hatchery. Washington biologists are being directed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the US Fish &Wildlife Department (USFW) to do the same thing.   Fisheries officials tell us they've reached their quota for hatchery Fish but those quotas just don't seem to make sense, especially when you consider that after a generation or two, we can't tell the difference between hatchery and wild fish anyway.    According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a group suing the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for destruction of hatchery salmon, "the chief of the National Marine Fisheries Services' hatchery and inland fisheries branch admits there probably aren't any truly "wild" fish left in the United States outside of Alaska."    I've introduced a bill requiring state and federal agencies to allow all hatchery origin salmon or steelhead that return as adults to spawn in natural conditions rather than being destroyed- even if they are considered stray or surplus. The only way these agencies can get around this requirement is:  -  If they get an order from the federal government in writing and signed by the appropriate federal official; -  If the order provides clear direction to assure threatened or endangered fish are not accidentally or intentionally destroyed in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA);  -  If it cites an actual federal regulation containing the criteria for distinguishing one species of fish from another and directing surplus hatchery fish be destroyed;  -  If the basis for the order is genetic testing of scales or other parts of the fish to allow accurate placement of species into categories; -  If the surplus hatchery fish have been determined genetically different from naturally spawning fish; -  If the number of fish in the population is enough to adequately restore the run without hatchery augmentation;  -  If the evaluation of fish stocks shows an estimate of how many stocks have strayed, the number years these stocks have strayed, and how much native stocks have inter mixed with other native or hatchery stocks.

      My bill, Senate Bill 6320, also requires more accountability from the federal government by telling the feds to manage their hatcheries and leave the states to manage their own.  Another component of SB 6320 aims to increase the number of salmon returning to the spawning grounds. We've known natural-spawning stocks have been overharvested for years and we're not getting sufficient returns to fully utilize the available habitat. -  First, we would require annual reporting of the cumulative harvest rates for each of the listed stocks. As these fish migrate to the Aleutian chain and back, they are subject to many different fisheries. Unlike other species listed under the Endangered Species Act, salmon is the only species the federal government continues to allow a significant number to be killed. When we're spending hundreds of million of dollars to save a species, we are entitled to know how many are being legally harvested and killed. -  Second, we would establish spawning escapement goals the number of fish to be spared from harvest in order to continue the species. Goals would be two-tiered. The first tier identifies the number of returning fish necessary to meet minimum federal ESA requirements. The public has a right to know how many spawning fish are necessary to "delist" the species. If we don't meet that goal, then we should reduce harvest until the goal is met. The second tier identifies the optimum number of salmon who will fully utilize the habitat, so we aren't expanding habitat when no fish are returning.  ­-  Third, we must identify more selective methods of harvest so listed salmon may be released alive to spawn while retaining abundant hatchery stocks for fishing. Our current method of identification by clipping the adipose fin only works when the fish is caught by a sportsfisher. This bill requires more study to expand selective harvest to other types of fisheries.    If we expect the people of the state of Washington to continue making sacrifices to save the salmon, we need clear goals and objectives. We also need strategies and policies that make sense.     Unfortunately, this measure did not make it out of the Senate Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Committee before the committee cut-off this year. That doesn't mean the fight is over. I will continue to gather information and evidence to keep on fighting into the future.

1998 Salmon Massacre:

        This is the second case that I know of where NMFS has recommended that the State Department of Game kill and bury salmon.   The first instance is at The Fall Creek hatchery in Oregon, which happened last year.  James Buchal the author of the "Great Salmon Hoax" has a DRAFT VIDEO of this on-line for your viewing, comments and feedback would be appreciated. (Thanks James)

  Ron Yeckout has a excellent Salmon Slaughter Video On-line at http://www.pushback.com 
 ( Thanks Ron )




For 130 years, Northwest residents have applied a single strategy to counteract an assault on native fish. Overfish to satisfy an unrealistic commercial demand. Build a hatchery. Wipe out a run of salmon. Build a hatchery.  Revised federal rules designed to protect outnumbered native salmon Build a dam. Build a hatchery.  So focused was the region on test-tube salmon that by the early 1990s agencies had built 150 hatcheries, holding pens and related facilities along the Columbia River and its tributaries. But as humans churned out ever more fish, nature produced fewer.  Biologists estimate that 16 million wild salmon and steelhead swarmed the  Columbia at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These days, the Columbia hosts about 1 million spawning fish each year.  Monitoring shows that 80 percent started life in the region's hatcheries  before making their two- to five-year journey to the ocean and back.  The Endangered Species Act mandates the preservation of wild creatures. But outside the confines of the law, does it matter that hatchery fish outnumber wild fish four to one? Or is a salmon a salmon no matter how it starts life?

    After all, hatchery fish look the same as wild fish, taste the same and feel the same on the end of a fishing line. Biologists say it matters greatly. Numerous studies show that poorly run hatcheries have diluted the genetics of wild fish, rendering them less able to survive nature's occasional catastrophes.  In the next three years, every hatchery that produces salmon for the Columbia will be scrutinized as never before. Some may close and some may see their missions shifted from mass production to the preservation of wild runs. And federally funded hatcheries will soon be operating under new rules meant to protect native fish. In all likelihood, hatcheries never again will produce the 200 million young fish dumped into the Columbia River annually in the early 1990s, the peak of artificial fish production. That means fewer opportunities for fishermen, unless wild runs are restored or hatcheries get better at creating fish that can survive to adulthood.  Activists opposing land-use restrictions, dam-breaching and other costly conservation efforts argue there's not a whit of difference between hatchery and wild fish.  Some want hatchery fish counted with wild ones, a move that would end Endangered Species Act protection for some runs.  "We have serious doubts about whether the salmon crisis is real," said Dean Boyer of the Washington Farm Bureau. "It's almost a fraud on the public."

An expensive enterprise

     In 1999, the Bonneville Power Administration and the federal government spent $70 million on hatcheries that feed the Columbia. States and public utility districts added more millions.   From 1981 to 1991, hatcheries took more than 40 percent of the $1.3 billion spent trying to restore salmon in the Columbia River system, according to the General Accounting Office. Habitat restoration claimed 7 percent.  The hatchery money has kept alive fishing seasons that boost local economies.  Anglers this spring will fill motels in Leavenworth, Wash., so they can catch hatchery-reared chinook salmon returning to Icicle Creek. The Idaho state record steelhead started life in Dworshak National Fish Hatchery on the Clearwater River.  With habitat suffering, hatcheries are the only way scientists can save some runs from extinction. A hatchery sustained healthy numbers of chinook from south-central Washington's White Salmon River. A dam there has blocked salmon from reaching spawning beds since 1913. Soon, the dam will be removed and hatchery fish will be used to repopulate the river.   But conservation successes are the exception, according to the 1996 Return to the River report. That massive study, produced by 12 scientists for the Northwest Power Planning Council, was generally critical of past hatchery practices. "The early optimism that predicted hatcheries would make up for overharvest and habitat degradation has given way to the reality of depletion, closed fisheries and a fragmented ecosystem in which natural production is severely restricted," reported the Independent Scientific Group.

 Early optimism

    Canneries opened the first hatchery on a Columbia River tributary in 1870.  Built on Oregon's Clackamas River, the hatchery was intended to bolster already-declining stocks of chinook. It closed for a while, but reopened in 1888.  From then on, the Independent Scientific Group noted, there has not been a year when all the fish in the Columbia were wild. The government's stated goal for early hatcheries was to prevent restrictions on fishing. During the great dam-building era of the 20th century, as the government harnessed rivers to produce electricity, it built hatcheries to placate the concerns of commercial fishermen.  In 1938, Congress passed the Mitchell Act to restore fish lost to Bonneville and other lower Columbia River dams. Today, the act finances 25 hatcheries.  In 1941, the federal Bureau of Reclamation completed the Leavenworth hatchery complex. It would "amply" make up for salmon that could no longer reach the 1,400 miles of river above Grand Coulee Dam, bureau officials said.  Other hatcheries followed other dams. Most notable were those built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore fish lost to the four Snake River dams in Washington. The hatcheries would create fish runs larger than the natural river had ever supported, project scientists predicted in the 1970s.   Dworshak and other Snake River hatcheries do produce enough steelhead for annual fishing seasons. They've been less successful with chinook, which can only occasionally be fished. The government provided no hatchery for coho, which disappeared from the Snake in the 1980s. Snake River sockeye, which now are the most endangered salmon in the Northwest, initially were ignored, as well.  Along the way, hatcheries -- like dams and fish -- became Northwest icons. The Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had 105,000 visitors last year, said hatchery spokeswoman Corky Broaddus.

Messing with nature

     From the beginning, crude hatchery practices damaged wild fish. Scientists speculate that juvenile hatchery steelhead eat wild chinook as they wiggle from the gravel after hatching. That's natural; what isn't natural is the large numbers of 8-inch steelhead that sometimes are released just as historically low numbers of 11/2-inch chinook are emerging.  Hatchery fish may also spread disease among wild salmon. And they compete with wild fish for food. In some cases, states and the federal government have allowed fishing for hatchery salmon that mix with wild fish. Since there's often no way to tell the two apart -- hatchery steelhead typically are marked but most hatchery salmon are not -- wild fish from struggling runs are undoubtedly killed in those fisheries. The biggest threat is to fish genetics.  Biologists believe nature equipped salmon with characteristics to survive the unique hurdles presented by the streams of their birth.  Chinook tend to spawn early in Oregon's Willamette River because that's the only time they can scale Willamette Falls, said Michael Ford, a genetics researcher for the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Sockeye from Redfish Lake in Idaho have huge fat reserves to fuel their 900-mile journey from the ocean. Other salmon are immune to diseases that are prevalent in their home waters. For decades, hatcheries gave little thought to such distinctions.  One hatchery, constructed in 1909 at Bonneville, collected eggs and sperm from throughout the region and mixed them all together. The resulting juvenile salmon were shipped as far as Idaho and southern Oregon.  It was much the same elsewhere.  Such mixing wouldn't much matter if every fish reared at a hatchery returned to the hatchery or died trying. But a few fish get lost on the way home from the ocean. Those strays end up spawning with their wild cousins.  Surveys of marked chinook in the early 1990s showed that some adults reared in a Klickitat River hatchery wandered up the Snake River instead, said Stephen Smith, regional hatcheries chief for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The two Columbia River tributaries are more than 100 miles apart.  Smith said he doubts any Northwest salmon are genetically pure after so much hatchery influence.  But even those that suffered the most genetic "pollution" can be turned around if hatchery practices are reformed, he said. There is still plenty of diversity from one watershed to the next. "If you stop the pollution, just like in a stream, it will eventually clean up," he said.  Reforms are coming.  The fisheries service, which is responsible for salmon recovery, is beginning to demand that hatcheries use local fish, if they're available.  And hatcheries eventually will have to mark all the salmon they produce so fishermen and researchers can distinguish them from wild fish, Smith said.  Fish are marked with tags or by clipping certain fins.  Innumerable studies are in the works. For instance, hatcheries are studying the fish they release to determine how they compete with native fish.  That could lead to changes in the timing or placement of steelhead releases, said Bill Miller, manager of the Dworshak hatchery.  The Northwest Power Planning Council has called for a first-ever evaluation of all Columbia River hatcheries within three years. In addition, the council has adopted 10 guidelines that the government is expected to apply to all hatcheries.  The guidelines stress that producing fish for harvest remains a legitimate purpose of some hatcheries. But they require steps to reduce the harm caused  to native fish. Hatcheries that don't meet the council's guidelines will have to make changes or see their funding cut by the Bonneville Power Administration, said John Harrison, council spokesman.

A fish is a fish

     No one is arguing that hatcheries can't be improved. But some skeptics say scientists are making too much of the differences between hatchery and wild fish.  Ronald Yechout of Philomath, Ore., compares hatchery fish to test-tube baby humans. They're every bit as valuable as those conceived through sex or spawning.  "These fish make it through all the seals and cormorants, go all the way to Alaska and then come back," Yechout said. "If that's not wild, I don't know what it takes to be wild." Yechout was hunting elk in 1998 when he spotted state workers clubbing hatchery salmon at Fall Creek, a tributary of Oregon's coastal Alsea River. The Fall Creek hatchery had a mission of producing coho for ocean catch.  It was being closed because there are few ocean coho seasons in these days of endangered wild salmon. The state killed about 6,000 of the fish -- the progeny of coho from other, far-flung streams -- to prevent them from spawning with a struggling run of wild Alsea River coho.  Outraged, Yechout videotaped the scene and has since shown it to Rotary clubs, appeared on radio talk shows and recently made the front page of The Wall Street Journal.  Yechout's message: Salmon can't be endangered if we're clubbing them to death. He contends the government manufactured the fish crisis to gain more control over private property through the Endangered Species Act.  "When people see what's actually going on, they're appalled because all  they've heard is that there's no fish," Yechout said. "There are lots of fish, but we don't count all of them." Mention the Fall Creek video to fisheries biologists and they cringe.  The fact is, many hatcheries kill adult fish once they have collected enough eggs and sperm to produce the next generation, Smith said.  In the past, some of the excess salmon went to Native Americans for food and tribal ceremonies. Some were sold for animal food or fertilizer. Some were dumped into pits and buried.  More recently, the carcasses have been dumped along streams. For eons, that's how nature kept Northwest forests lush and rivers fertile. It's how the next generation of juvenile salmon was fed.  There aren't enough wild salmon returning to rivers to provide the nourishment any longer. Just as when the dams were built and the rivers overfished, the Northwest is again turning to hatcheries to provide replacements.

Tom Flint,
Jan 2, 2016, 3:55 PM