The argument over hatchery fish and 'wild' salmon continues despite scientific evidence - 8 species could be delisted from the ESA by June

Washington Farm Bureau


IN A COLUMN TODAY IN THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, KING COUNTY Executive and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ron Sims accuses the Bush administration of "defying local policy and long-established scientific evidence" by proposing to consider hatchery fish when deciding whether specific populations of salmon should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sims argues that hatchery salmon are "genetically inferior, more susceptible to disease and less adaptable than their wild counterparts" and "in fact...are very different animals." The column was also signed by Larry Phillips, chairman of the King County Council.

THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER TODAY ALSO RAN A COLUMN BY JEFF CURTIS, with Trout Unlimited, that calls the proposed hatchery policy "part of a larger Bush administration attack" on the Endangered Species Act. Curtis acknowledges that Trout Unlimited recently published a report that said properly managed hatcheries can play a role in restoring salmon runs. Nevertheless, he also argues that "virtually all of the recent scientific studies (confirm) that, in fact, wild fish and hatchery fish are different."

IN A COLUMN SATURDAY IN THE SEATTLE TIMES, PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION attorney Russ Brooks argues in favor of counting hatchery fish. Brooks notes that hatchery salmon spend only a brief time in hatcheries before being released into the wild where "the instincts Mother Nature provided them take over." They spend the next three to four years living side by side with their naturally spawned counterparts, foraging for food and avoiding predators. When the time comes, they return to their native streams to spawn, where they are gathered up by hatchery workers. Many hatchery salmon do spawn in the wild, where they freely interbreed with so-called wild salmon. Thus, Brooks asks, "how wild do they need to be."

EVEN THOUGH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION HASN'T OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED ITS new hatchery policy, several Northwest newspapers have already editorialized against it, based on leaks to The Washington Post. Those include the Seattle Times (May 1), Seattle Post-Intelligencer (May 2), Bellingham Herald (May 9), and the Vancouver Columbian. As noted in NewsWatch May 11, the Yakima Herald-Republic endorsed the idea of counting hatchery fish. (May 9) Despite the outcry, the Washington Post reported May 6 that Northwest pollsters don't believe the issue will influence voters.
* Portland-based pollster Bob Moore said most voters care about salmon, but they don't see a difference between hatchery and naturally spawning fish.
* Another Portland pollster, Tim Hibbits, said voters are more concerned with "monster issues," including finding a job and the war in Iraq, than they are with hatchery versus wild salmon. "This will give people who don't like George Bush another reason not to like him, (but) it won't make any difference to swing voters, who are the key to the election."
* Seattle pollster Stuart Elway said "it has been a long time since people thought the environment was in enough peril to raise it to the level of a real campaign issue."

NOAA FISHERIES, THE FEDERAL AGENCY THAT ADMINISTERS THE ENDANGERED Species Act for salmon, expects to publish its new hatchery policy in the Federal Register in June. NOAA Fisheries also has until June 1 to decide whether to delist eight populations of Northwest salmon, based on a 2001 ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan that the agency cannot list naturally spawning salmon without also listing genetically similar hatchery fish.



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