'Wild salmon' different than 'hatchery salmon'? No genetic difference

Letter to the editor of the Seattle Times

posted 5/13/04

Dear Mr. Sims and Mr. Phillips,

I read the article you co-authored about salmon (see below). I am sorry, but your information from NOAA is incorrect about the “wild salmon” being different from “hatchery salmon”. Who at NOAA did you talk to? Only about 90 percent salmon actually return to spawn where they were born. This is Mother Nature’s way of mixing the gene pool. Hatchery salmon are simply offspring of those that originally spawned in rivers. Where do you think they got the original salmon anyway? They are genetically identical; not as your article below indicates. Please get your facts straight otherwise you mislead people, and that is not nice and could appear untruthful.

I think it is disingenuous of you two to write in the extreme biased NW paper claiming that NOAA bases it’s findings on anything but political motivation. Bob Lohn himself (current NOAA Director) recently requested a 90 day extension of their negotiated deadline to take action on petitions asking for delisting of various populations of NW salmon protected under ESA.

The petitions, filed in October 2001, argued NOAA should delist salmon because the agency failed to include hatchery salmon when determining salmon populations. In the recent court victory, Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans, upheld on appeal by the Circuit Court, ruled NOAA must include hatchery spawned salmon when determining total population counts. By law NOAA was to respond to the petitions within one year. After over two years there has been no action from NOAA. NOAA broke the law after being presented plenty of salmon science and you, in your article, insinuate that their federal scientific review isn’t biased? In addition, you appear to be bragging that King County’s “road maintenance standards received NOAA approval for the habitat and salmon protections”. Why are you interested in burdening your constituents with these costly standards? Anything NOAA approves has got to cost four times what it should (take a look at any Roadway Project ESA Biological Assessment on file at King County). Your job is to save the public money not to waste it.

In addition, your glaringly partisan article, with the help of the Seattle Times, was a perfectly timed response to the very responsible efforts of the Bush Administration to promote what is right and good and true and fair with respect to salmon counts and you say they are wrong? I’m sorry to tell you, but the Circuit Court says you are wrong. As Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia says, “Shame on you, fie on you” Mr. Sims and Mr. Phillips!


Gary Wiggins in Arizona

Famous Scientific Quote from NMFS (now NOAA):

"When we make critical habitat designations, we just designate everything as critical, without an analysis of how much habitat an evolutionary significant unit needs." - Donna Darm, the acting NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) Regional Administrator for the Northwest, in a 1998 intra-agency memorandum. - GW


Salmon recovery efforts must be based on science
RON SIMS AND LARRY PHILLIPS May 12th, 2004 Article:

The Pacific Northwest faces a new threat to the long-term survival of our wild salmon runs: environmental policy decisions based on federal politics, not science.

The Bush administration proposes in a draft policy to count millions of hatchery fish as part of West Coast wild salmon runs, when in fact they are very different animals. The administration is all but saying that hatchery fish production can make up for land use and industrial actions that destroy salmon habitat and harm water quality for people. The administration is wrong.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that hatchery fish are no replacement for wild ones and large hatchery runs are no excuse for dodging or delaying meaningful habitat protections for chinook, kokanee and bull trout. Hatcheries are extensions of -- not replacements for -- habitat protections that will ultimately be the foundation of sustainable and harvestable salmon populations.

We've proven we can fertilize and hatch salmon eggs in a pond but when compared to wild fish, hatchery fish are genetically inferior, more susceptible to disease and less adaptable than their wild counterparts. Their size and number threaten wild fingerlings by attracting predators and competing with them for food and habitat.

Because hatchery fish are brewed in a tank, they don't imprint on their home streams like wild fish do. Like an unleashed computer virus, once launched into the wild, hatchery fish travel freely to a variety of streams, bringing with them increased risks to wild fish.

Recent headlines proclaim record returns of salmon. But the question to ask is, "Record returns of what?" The answer: returns of hatchery sockeye or chinook that represent a tiny percentage of the historic runs of wild salmon that used to thrive in our rivers.

Using the federal government's own scientific review from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, nine rivers around the Puget Sound have lost wild chinook runs. About one-third of the Puget Sound basin's historical chinook runs have gone extinct and current returns may be one-tenth -- or less -- of what they were. This means, on average, where we had 5,000 chinook returning in the past we now have only 500, and where we had 1,000, we now have only 100. This is a terrible and alarming record that spans more than a century. But we can recover some of what we've lost -- if we base our recovery efforts on science.

King County is preserving key habitat areas in Bear Creek and the Cedar River. King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are implementing the road maintenance standards that received NOAA approval for the habitat and salmon protections they support. We are also moving toward implementing conservation plans for Lake Washington and the Green and Snohomish rivers, and working through the shared strategy process to have a chinook recovery strategy in place by June of 2005.

People also benefit from the environmental conditions needed to keep salmon viable. Habitat preservation and restoration help keep the drinking water clean for approximately 20,000 Kent and King County residents who get their water from Rock Creek.

Now is not the time for the other Washington to gut the efforts of local citizens and their government partners. Puget Sound and Pacific Northwest people have made tremendous investments to return our salmon populations to robust health and preserve our quality of life. It's unacceptable for the Bush administration to forsake us by defying local policy and long-established scientific evidence to allow hatchery stock to count the same as wild salmon. Current Endangered Species Act protections save salmon, promote healthy habitat for fish and people and support sustainable fisheries. Don't defy the scientific evidence and threaten our success by miscounting our fis



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