Are some fish created more equal than others? This conundrum is the subject of a draft policy released in late July by the National Marine Fisheries Service, regarding which salmon and steelhead deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 10/8/01).
On one side of the debate are some Northwest farmers and landowners who bear the brunt of regulations aimed at protecting the fish. Citing an abundance of hatchery fish, they have petitioned to remove 15 species from the endangered list. "Hatchery salmon are just as good as so-called 'wild' salmon," says Russell Brooks of the Pacific Legal Foundation.
On the other side are environmentalists, who want to protect and restore rivers, not just provide meat for the markets. They argue that only wild fish deserve protection - and that hatchery fish actually harm wild ones by watering down the gene pool.
Both sides agree that the draft policy released in July does little to clear the waters. When considering a species for listing, the Fisheries Service will tally both hatchery and wild fish populations, but it will assess extinction risks based only on wild populations. All endangered salmon and steelhead will be protected, regardless of whether they came from wild rivers or concrete-lined hatchery pools.
Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited, one of 17 groups petitioning the Service to list only wild fish, is pleased that the draft policy will study the effects - good or bad - that hatchery fish have on wild populations. "Wild salmon provide the basis for hatchery salmon. If we don't focus our efforts on the wild salmon, we're not going to have any salmon left."