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Reducing salmon to a mere commodity(Bill Bakke article)

Posted by Mark Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I thought this was worth putting out there for those that haven't seen it.Get involved and join the Native Fish Society.

I was involved with a little discussion on another blog about the North Umpqua and the hatchery program there. In the discussion, people were talking about how the NU is a great river because there are no hatchery fish.Well it IS a great river but there are hatchery fish and they are in the fly water.I made the point that as long as they(ODFW)insist on putting fish in the river, why not raise them in the river? Eggs from wild fish fertilized and hatched in the river will not carry the disease of tank raised smolts and be a much healthier and stronger fish....essentially a wild fish. It is time for a change like Bill says.....I just don't think the state is willing to change very fast. Until they get rid of the hatcheries all together, we need to think about how we can help our wild fish in the presence of hatcheries. Letting wild eggs hatch in the river in real world conditions might be a way to ease out of the hatchery program. My 2 cents. Maybe not the best case scenario(which would be no hatcheries)but it is a step in the right direction and better than pond raised pellet heads. The hatchery program is not going to go away over night people. Any other thoughts?

I would love to hear your comments.

Here is the article:

Reducing Salmon to a Mere Commodity

Published: Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 9:00 AM Updated: Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 11:33 AM

By Bill Bakke

For 150 years, fish managers have assumed that hatchery fish can rebuild declining runs of wild salmon and steelhead. Little thought has been given to wild fish conservation, and hatchery fish spawning naturally in the same streams with wild fish has been considered a plus.

There are two recognized impacts from this thinking. A major concern is the genetic impact that hatchery fish will have on wild fish when they spawn together naturally. Scientific research has shown that this spawning mix results in reduced fitness and reduced reproductive success of the wild spawners. Genetic introgression can change wild fish so that they are poorly adapted to their spawning and rearing streams. Another impact that's emerging is related to the ecological effect of hatchery fish spawning naturally in streams. Hatchery fish compete with wild fish for a finite food supply and rearing space. Hatchery fish also are predators on wild fish and attract other predators, and they can introduce diseases.

It's also recognized that non-selective fisheries targeted on hatchery fish have an impact on wild fish that are mixed in with hatchery fish, a typical situation. Even when there is a selective fishery and wild fish are released, there is a poorly quantified mortality impact on wild fish.

Taken together, these impacts affect the number of wild spawners that reach their home streams and lower their reproductive success. Consequently, hatchery programs are a known constraint on wild salmonid abundance. Wild salmonids are declining along the west coast of North America, and many populations are now protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. These impacts are not effectively regulated, and for that reason there is inadequate protection for wild populations of fish.

Fish management agencies are continuing to contribute to the decline and extinction of wild salmon and steelhead, and that contribution is even more serious than that of land and water management agencies in their determined degradation of salmonid habitat. It's more serious because the fish management agencies are charged with protecting fish, recovery of wild fish and preventing their decline.

Even though we know better, the agencies resist changing hatchery programs.

By ignoring their own research on the interactions of wild and hatchery fish, fish management agencies are failing to do their job by applying the best available scientific information. State and federal fish management agencies have transformed salmonids into a commodity that is produced and harvested. Rather than maintain and protect the productive capacity of these fish populations and the habitats that sustain them across the landscape, they have reduced fish management to a simple industrial model of stock and kill.

Consequently, stray hatchery fish are beside the point. Over-harvesting wild fish is beside the point. Delivering spawners needed to fully utilize the habitat in each watershed is beside the point. These issues and many more will remain beside the point forever unless fish management institutions are accountable for the impact of hatcheries and harvest on wild salmonids.

Fish managers do not consider it in their best interest to improve management for wild salmonids when it could threaten $123.1 million in public funding for hatcheries in the Columbia River.

We've lived with this erroneous institutional commitment for 150 years. It's time for change.

Bill Bakke is executive director of the Native Fish Society.


  1. chaveecha Says:
  2. Taking wild eggs and sperm out of natural production is not going to help the wild population on the North Umpqua, or anywhere else. Better to keep the hatchery stock as domesticated as possible to reduce the risk of genetic introgression, and to limit hatchery/wild pairings. The more a hatchery strain resembles the wild fish present in a basin, the higher the liklihood of conflict and introgression. I know this seems to fly in the face of ODFW's messaging right now, and there's a long story behind that. Basically, as wild-brood programs are sweeping the west, the leading researchers on wild/hatchery interactions are seeing that such programs pose greater risks to wild fish than the old programs. So you have an agency in conflict, pushing a program they know is destructive, but politically is very attractive.

    You are right, though. Hatcheries are here to stay. So we need to be progressive and inclusive in our thinking, rather than clinging to our pie-in-the-sky dreams of a wild planet. We have to craft hatchery programs that provide opportunity at the least risk to wild. For the North Umpqua, that means keeping hatchery adults off the spawning grounds. There are lots of ways to acheive that goal, but going to wild-brood and allowing hatchery adults access to spawning grounds would be a move in the wrong direction.

    Can you please help me get this message to the guides in the fly water? I've heard that some prominent fly guides are pushing for hatchery fish up there, and I'm shocked. So far it seems to be about money, which takes all the credibility out of such a plan. Hopefully the reasons are more defensible. Either way, I want to understand their thinking and make an attempt at dialog before I pull out the rocket launchers.

  3. Mark Says:
  4. Interesting and informative comments chaveecha. I am no biologist obviously, I am just trying to think of some options. I learn more about this stuff everyday, I need to keep learning more.

    Question-So hatchery fish imprinted at Rock Creek that stray up into the fly water as adults are actually less impactful to the wild fishery than wild brood raised from eggs to smolts in the river? So you are saying that even wild brood raised in the river is still genetically inferior to a true wild fish.

    Thanks,I appreciate your comments SS

  5. chaveecha Says:
  6. Sounds like we need to clear up some questions to be sure we're on the same page here. First, I need to know how you are suggesting that fertilized eggs from wild brood would be raised to smolts in-river. I'd suggest that is not possible, because once the eggs hatch in the river, you no longer have control. And alevin or fingerling releases end in disaster consistently. The reason modern hatcheries have become the dominant method for raising man-made fish is they offer control up to smolt size. Very important in our highly fluvial systems.

    Wild-brood programs take wild fish out of production and raise the progeny in raceways or ponds. Even that short exposure to hatchery environs results in a net loss in genetic integrity, and the behavior of these fish shows signs of swinging toward domestication and the resulting loss of fitness. These fish are much closer to wild, and they have a higher rate of spawning success. So, YES, the progeny pose a higher risk to natives in the fly water than the domesticated Rock Creek fish. I'd love to continue this directly. Feel free to email me at:

  7. Mark Says:
  8. I would like to keep this discussion on here to try and get some more discussion going.I am just throwing some ideas around.

    Like I said, I am no biologist but I am trying to think of ways that ODFW could look at changing their tactics a little.There is no magic bullet here I admit, but as long as hatcheries are around changing the mind set and trying something else would be worth exploring. Trying to raise wild fish in river with no hatchery experience at all seems like a much better option than releasing straight up hatchery smolts.

    To answer your question,I would suggest the use of fish boxes. This eliminates any hatchery exposure in raceways or ponds. This has been done with some success,although hard to track survival numbers. Probably on the order of what wild survival is....which is not extraordinarily high.It is already hard to track fish numbers on any given system and any way it is just a number which helps to justify the existence of hatcheries not numbers of wild fish.The number of wild fish in the tribs spawning is a much better number to go by for a wild fish count.

    Wild fish eggs are not controlled once they hatch and I wouldn't want the fish box fish controlled either.I want them to have to grow up and deal with it the same as a wild fish alevin would.

    I don't see how a fish with wild parents that is hatched in the river would suffer any genetic loss.

  9. chaveecha Says:
  10. Mark, agreed that seems like a good idea on the face of it, since it would avoid the hatchery envoronment. Interestingly, the hatch-box concept was the mainstay of Oregon's STEP efforts for twenty years. But since fins weren't clipped, it was not possible to gauge success. Studies have shown, however, that all supplementation efforts that involve the release of juveniles before smolting results in extremely low returns. Analysis of this approach has shown conclusively that more smolts and adults would have come from allowing the wild broodstock to spawn naturally. It's a very important illustration of one of the biggest dangers of wild-brood hatchery programs: by taking wild eggs & sperm to the hatch box or hatchery, the river loses. The wild fish do a better job. The only way to beat that problem is to raise the progeny in a captive environment until they hit thesmolt phase. Then survival is much higher, as is the competitive pressures they exert on wild fish. Then you add the increased angling effort on wild fish and the risks of genetic introgression, and the tendency for wild-brood offspring to residualize and eat wild smolts, and you start to see what a mess this is.

    The wild ones have their shit together after 20,000 years.

    No doubt the North will always have a hatchery component. The latest science indicates that the wild run will be fine as long as the spawning adults in the North are 10% hatchery or less. If it creeps higher, the result will be a loss of wild fish.

  11. Mark Says:
  12. Very good info there chav. So what you are saying is there really is no good alternative to the hatchery program the way it runs now.

    Basically keep raising fish in ponds so we can keep track of them,and keep them seperate by clipping and they survive, but keep the numbers below 10% to avoid too much competition with wild fish.Maybe that's the best we can do.

    So how do we keep track of hatchery fish that spawn in the river or trib who have young that are not clipped.Can't be done. It's a difficult problem with hard solutions.

    Maybe the only real good use of money is to have the ODFW start doing some major stream restoration in Steamboat,Canton etc creeks to give the wild fish back their historic territory.

    Also shouldn't the removal of the dam be on everyone's agendaa as well. Decades of trapped spawning gravels are behind the dam and would be beneficial to the in river spawning of the winter fish.

    Good stuff thanks for your comments.

  13. Anonymous Says:
  14. Mark, here is a summary of the ODFW position on hatchboxes, based on their prior experience with them:

    The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will support the use of hatchboxes only in certain areas and under certain specific conditions. The areas where hatchboxes are most likely to be appropriate are streams historically inhabited by the juvenile fish of the species of interest, but where they are not now present. In some cases, hatchboxes are used in areas above artificial barriers that block passage of adult salmonids. Hatchboxes may be used to supplement existing populations only if information from a physical and biological survey of the stream suggests that the local population is extremely depressed and that there is sufficient habitat available to support the hatchbox fry without having a detrimental effect on the local population. Except for small projects that focus on education, releases into a stream is limited to one life cycle of the species. Hatchboxes are an inappropriate tool in areas where the available rearing habitat is already fully occupied by juvenile salmonids, or where the appropriate egg source (brood stock) is not available.

    There is little argument that good artificial incubation techniques can have egg-to-fry survival rates of well over 95%, a significant increase over values reported for naturally incubated eggs. However, there is little evidence that egg-to-fry survival rates are limiting the adult production of most salmonid fishes. One exception to this may be with chum salmon, which migrate into salt-water almost immediately after emerging from the gravel. For salmonid species with extended freshwater rearing (coho, steelhead, cutthroat, and some chinook stocks) factors other than egg to fry survival rate are probably more important in determining adult production levels.


    the history of hatchbox use is summarized by Jim Lichatowich in Salmon Without Rivers. This book is essential reading.

    As indicated in the ODFW summary, most salmonid populations make enough eggs and fry, but other factors such as rearing habitat are limiting to overall numbers. Adding hatchbox fry on top of this wouldn't boost fish numbers unless there is primo rearing habitat currently available yet not being used due to insufficient numbers of fry (unlikely). Opening up habitat (above Soda Springs) or improving existing habitat (many of the NU tribs have severe logging histories and lack big wood) might increase fish numbers. I'd still expect wild production to saturate these areas, given the thousands of summer and winter spawners. I'm more concerned about negative interactions with smallmouth and striped bass, for which I can only ever seem to find anecdotal information about possible effects.

    - Steve

  15. chaveecha Says:
  16. I'm not the guy with the answers, Mark. Just passing along some of what I have gleaned from leading biologists. I'm not qualified to be the guy writing the prescription.

    Talking with Wratney last week, I think I have a good handle on the issues and arguments. His main point was that he thinks the pressure up there is more than the wild fish can handle at their current population size. Additionally, he voiced the sentiment that the hatchery summers in there now are going to waste, and that a portion should be moved into the "lower" fly water. The reasoning seems sound until you boil it down to its essence. Which it money, sadly. Tony admits it wholeheartedly. I asked Tony if he would feel the same way if he wasn't guiding anymore. But how would he know. I guided for 10 years and I have a pretty good idea how that works. I would ask you the same question. Because there will be a day when you stop guiding, and you'll take off the cash-money glasses and see the river in a new light. You'll add up what the river has given you over your life, and you'll want to give back. And I would urge you to make that leap now, stand up for the wild fish now, and squelch the voice in your head that is weighing income against the health of your beloved river. There's no paycheck that is worth risking that place and those fish.

    Another thing Tony made very clear, which I was very happy to hear: He's all for going to a wild-only Umpqua if the state will take the money being spent on hatcheries and use it to fix broken habitat. Now we're talking...

  17. Mark Says:
  18. Thankfully, I don't guide enough to have money be any influence on my thoughts. I am not doing it for a living nor do I want to.I have never had cash money glasses on for that river in any way shape or form.

    My whole reason for this discussion was trying to come up with ways that money could be better spent by the ODFW since hatcheries will no doubt remain for sometime.

    The only way to really know what the health of our wild fish runs are for sure is to stop putting hatchery fish in and letting them cycle out of the system for 6-8 years.Then do a count at Winchester and see what those numbers are. We all might be surprised when we see it's about 1,500- 2000-wild fish.


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