Friday, April 26, 2002
By ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer

A coalition of conservation groups Thursday offered their own solution to the long-simmering debate over the differences between salmon that spawn in the wild and their hatchery-raised cousins:

    Classify them as altogether different creatures.

    The 17 conservation groups filed their petition Thursday with the National Marine Fisheries Service at regional offices in Seattle and Long Beach, Calif.

    "The elegance of the action we're taking today is we clearly define the element that needs to be protected: wild fish," said Jason Miner, conservation biologist with Oregon Trout.

    Conservation groups acted in light of a decision last fall by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who ruled NMFS erred by lumping hatchery and wild coastal coho salmon together, then giving protection only to the wild fish. Hogan, whose opinion has been stayed during an appeal by environmental groups, ruled the Endangered Species Act requires the agency to list the coho in its entirety or not to list it at all.

    Irrigators acted quickly after the decision, petitioning NMFS to delist 15 Northwest salmon stocks on the basis of sustainable hatchery populations even though wild runs are in many cases hanging on by a thread.

    Conservation groups targeted those same 15 stocks for their petition Thursday.

    In doing so, the groups took aim at hundreds of state, federal and tribal hatcheries that have been pumping out hundreds of millions of hatchery-raised smolts every year. Despite more than a century of hatchery production, overall salmon populations have dwindled. In the Columbia River Basin, presettlement highs of 16 million spawning fish fell to barely 3 million last year and that was the best return since the construction of Bonneville Dam in 1937.

    "We've thrown good money after bad into hatcheries for the last 100 years, and we are no closer to recovery," said Joe Whitworth, Oregon Trout executive director.

    But the coalition's petition doesn't make sense, an attorney for irrigators argued.

    Just because one fish is raised in a hatchery and its cousin spawned in the wild doesn't mean they are different species, said James Buchal, who represents irrigation groups petitioning to delist fish. "It's arbitrary and irrational," he said.

    Tribal groups have still another view, said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Tribes agree with green groups on the need for widespread habitat improvements, but they often part ways over the value of hatchery-raised salmon. Hatchery fish now make up the overwhelming majority of the salmon and steelhead returning to the Columbia, making them a key staple for tribal fishing and sustenance.

    Short of massive habitat improvements that include dam-breaching, Hudson said hatcheries remain a valuable tool.

    "There are some groups out there that will be content living with little more than remnant populations in the Columbia basin," Hudson said. "The tribes are not."


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site