[env-trinity] Front Page San Francisco Chronicle July 5 2009

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Sun Jul 5 08:37:19 PDT 2009

Warning on trout hatcheries could force changes

 <mailto:pfimrite at sfchronicle.com> Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, July 5, 2009



Hatchery-raised steelhead trout pass on genetic defects that hamper survival
of even their wild-born offspring, according to a study that biologists say
could lead to a radical shift in the way salmon breeding programs operate on
the West Coast.



TL&o=0> Ben White, the head biologist at Warm Springs Hatchery in...
TL&o=1> Hatchery-raised steelhead trout can pass on genetic defec...
TL&o=2> Head biologist Ben White checks on young trout at Warm Sp...
TL&o=> http://imgs.sfgate.com/graphics/utils/plus-green.gifView More Images 


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The recent Oregon State University study found that even hatchery fish whose
parents were wild develop and pass on genetic defects severe enough to
hamper the reproductive ability of their offspring.

The implication, scientists said, is that hatchery programs for all salmonid
species, including steelhead, chinook and coho, could actually be harming
the natural balance and contributing to the demise of the once plentiful
salmon runs in California, Oregon and Washington. 

"Past studies have always suggested that hatchery-produced fish are of
lesser quality, but this study shows it is more disturbing than we thought,"
said Tina Swanson, a fishery scientist and the executive director of the Bay
Institute. "This is the clearest indication that hatchery-produced fish can
actually harm wild stocks. It underscores my suspicion that hatcheries are
not the solution."

The issue is critically important to biologists, fishermen and water
managers in California, where the commercial salmon fishing season was shut
down for a second straight year after another paltry return of spawning fall
run chinook. 

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River fall run is historically the largest run of
salmon on the West Coast and the vast majority of those fish are mass
produced in hatcheries. 

Scientists point to a host of environmental and habitat problems, including
a warming ocean, for the decline. A biological review this month by the
National Marine Fisheries Service placed much of the blame on diversions by
the state and federal water systems. 

Hatcheries, though, have always been seen as part of the solution. The
Oregon study released in June shows that they may instead be part of the

Michael Blouin, a professor of zoology at Oregon State and the lead author
of the study, said the genetic fingerprints of three generations of wild and
hatchery-raised fish from Oregon's Hood River, in the Columbia River system,
were studied for how well they reproduced in the wild. The analysis involved
genetic data on thousands of fish dating back to 1991. 

On average, he said, the offspring of two hatchery-reared steelhead were
only 37 percent as reproductively fit as fish whose parents were both wild.
The fish with two hatchery parents were 87 percent as fit as the offspring
of one wild parent and one hatchery parent.

Meticulous standards

These differences were detectable even after a full generation of natural
selection in the wild, Blouin said. 

"What's surprising is how poorly the first generation of fish do," Blouin
said. "There's a rapid decline in the fitness of those fish when they go out
and spawn in the wild."

The results are important because until now most biologists thought genetic
problems developed over several generations and only in hatcheries that were
lax in their efforts to ensure genetic variability.

But the Hood River hatchery is used for conservation purposes, meaning the
fish are meticulously bred, are fed in a way that is as natural as possible
and are regularly interbred with wild fish in an attempt to help with
genetic diversity. 

A previous Oregon State study published in the journal Science in 2007
showed that hatchery fish that migrate to the ocean and return to spawn
leave far fewer offspring than their wild relatives. This latest study,
Blouin said, strongly suggests that hatchery salmonids are also reducing the
fitness of wild populations when they interbreed. 

40 million salmon per year

The potential ramifications are frightening when one considers that 40
million hatchery-raised salmon are released into California river systems
every year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases 12 million chinook
smolt and the California Department of Fish and Game releases 20 million
smolt annually into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system. The rest are
dumped into the Klamath River.

Of the four big hatcheries run by the state and two by the federal
government, only the federally run Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery
at the base of Shasta Dam and the state's Warm Springs Hatchery for coho in
the Russian River Basin have the same quality standards as the Hood River

In fact, the vast majority of the California chinook are farmed for the
fishing industry as mitigation for construction of dams and other diversions
by the state and federal water projects. 

"The purpose is not to restore wild fall run chinook to the Sacramento,"
said Bob Clarke, the acting regional fisheries manager for the Fish and
Wildlife Service. "It is to help support a commercial and recreational

The Oregon study, which shows that even cautious breeding of fish can be
harmful, means that the mass production of salmon in California hatcheries
could be much more damaging than previously thought, according to

"If steelhead are at all similar to chinook then this is very, very, very
worrisome," said Swanson, adding that nobody even really knows if any wild
fall run chinook still exist. "We're doing a bunch of things that we already
know are wrong and this study has identified another flawed practice."

The study acknowledges that steelhead trout may react to captive breeding
differently than chinook, but it nevertheless warns fishery managers not to
rely on hatcheries for the recovery of salmonids.

A growing movement

"There is a lot circumstantial evidence that what we have shown is also
happening to other species," Blouin said. "What it means is that if you are
trying to help a wild population recover then putting hatchery fish in there
is probably not a good idea." 

The study gives credence to a growing movement to change the way hatcheries
operate. One proposal is to mandate removal of the adipose fins on all
hatchery fish for identification purposes. Another is to make hatchery
conditions more riverlike and feed young fish underwater instead of using
the unnatural method of throwing pellets on the top of the water.

"Even hatchery reform is not a solution, which is why no matter what you do
in the short term, the goal must be self-sustaining populations of wild
fish," said Steve Mashuda, an environmental attorney for Earth Justice. 

The positive thing about the study, Blouin said, is that it shows how
quickly fish adapt. If steelhead can change their genetics and behavior to
out compete others in the unnatural environment of a hatchery, he said, they
can certainly do it in the wild. 

"If you fix the habitat and leave it alone," he said, "natural selection
will very quickly create a locally adapted population." 

E-mail Peter Fimrite at pfimrite at sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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