[env-trinity] Redding.com Editorial: Suit says hatcheries, built to save fish, are the problem

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Jun 4 15:23:05 PDT 2013


Editorial: Suit says hatcheries, built to save fish, are the problem
Staff Reports

Monday, June 3, 2013

Do we need to close the hatcheries to save the fish?

A lawsuit filed last week by the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center doesn’t go quite that far, but it does launch a head-on attack on the Trinity River fish hatchery in Lewiston and, really, all the hatcheries built to keep salmon and steelhead breeding even after big dams blocked their native rivers. Fisheries scientists have increasingly come to see those hatcheries as part of the problem for wild fish, even as they keep the rivers seemingly brimming with fish raised in concrete tanks.

What’s the difference? Sometimes none at all, genetically speaking. But pumping rivers full of hatchery-bred salmon and steelhead can squeeze out wild fish — in this case, federally listed wild coho. The waves of hatchery fish eat too much. They can spread disease. They cross-breed with wild fish and homogenize the gene pool, potentially leaving salmon more prone to booms and busts.

The federal lawsuit wants a judge to declare the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in violation of the Endangered Species Act and halt Reclamation’s funding of the hatchery until the agencies consult with federal fisheries scientists about how to minimize harm to wild fish. Those scientists, in a draft coho recovery plan released last year, specifically named hatcheries as one of many threats.

One conservation approach that scientists have proposed is segregating hatcheries from the spawning grounds of wild fish — most likely by moving the hatcheries closer to the ocean. If that is indeed the right approach, then the Trinity River hatchery, at the top of the free-flowing reach of Trinity, would appear to be among the worst offenders — though it wouldn’t be hard to make a longer list.

If they closed or shrank the hatcheries, it might be good for the remaining wild fish in the long run. In the short run, it would be harsh for people who pursue fish for a living.

And it surely won’t be long before we see similar pressure on the Sacramento River’s hatcheries, including Coleman, and the recreational fishing they support up and down the river.
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