Fish out of (wild) water


I read with great interest this week’s feature about the Indian perspective on salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin, a subject I have studied for many years (“The Great Salmon Compromise,” HCN, 12/8/14). The author covered one aspect of a complex subject rather well, but he left out several pertinent facts.

Hatchery-bred fish do not survive well compared to wild salmonids. Many people in the fish business do not want to acknowledge the science that proves this.

Hatchery fish are raised in big tanks and fed pellets from above, so when they migrate they swim close to the surface of the river, where avian predators, like Caspian terns and cormorants, have easy eating.

Some hatchlings are transported in tank trucks to be acclimated to non-hatchery water upstream. The crowding in the tanks interferes with their natural “mapping” instincts, as does the barging back downstream past the dams. One result is a high degree of straying into non-native waters.

We see this with steelhead on my home river, the Deschutes. The returning adults are attracted to the cool waters of the Deschutes when the summer flows of the mainstem Columbia are low and warm. Some of those stray steelhead keep on swimming up the Deschutes and end up spawning in the tributaries, messing up the wild gene pool.

Anglers love to catch these steelhead, because they can take them home. This provides license revenue for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, creating a disincentive for the managers to keep the strays out of the river.

Finally, most of the hatcheries are located in rural areas where the steady payrolls are big contributors to struggling local economies. Hence, there’s big pressure on managers and legislators not to close or cut back hatchery production. I could go on, but the problem is partly (if not mostly) due to myths and errors perpetuated by the people who manage fisheries.

Roger Bachman
Portland, Oregon

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