Last week I spoke to the leadership at the NW Power and Conservation Council and asked them to do two follow-up reviews of work they have already invested in for salmon. The first has to do with hatchery supplementation, using hatchery fish to restore or recover wild salmonids, and to review the supplementation experiments they have on-going. Many of those experiments have been already evaluated and the results published in scientific journals. My request was to have staff review these experiments and find out what has been learned. The purpose of such a review would be to determine whether hatchery supplementation is an effective technology for recovery of wild salmon and steelhead. Since the public has invested heavily in hatchery supplementation, it is time for the public to benefit from what has been learned. The study below indicates that hatchery supplementation is not the solution it was sold to be:
Schroder, Steven, L., Curtis M. Knudsen, Todd N. Pearsons, Todd W. Kassler, Sewall F. Young, Craig Busack, and David Fast. 2008. Breeding success of wild and first-generation hatchery female spring chinook salmon spawning in an artificial stream. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 137: 1475-1489.
Our findings, plus those of the other investigations that have compared first-generation hatchery and wild chinook salmon native to the upper Yakima River, indicate that the hatchery environment has caused subtle morphological, physiological, and behavioral alterations in first-generation hatchery fish. The cumulative outcomes of the small differences observed are not yet known. However, if each has a small effect on fitness, the total effect could be significant. Indeed, Araki et al. (2007) present persuasive evidence that artificial culture can significantly reduce fitness in steelhead.
The other request I made was for the Independent Economic Advisory Board (IEAB) to be given the green light to conduct an economic review of all Columbia Basin hatchery programs. A little background may be of use here. In 2002 the IEAB proposed a limited economic review of selected salmon and steelhead hatcheries throughout the Columbia River Basin. This review found many interesting facts and for the first time, to my knowledge, the IEAB calculated how much a harvested hatchery fish cost. For example, at the time, hatchery summer steelhead from Irrigon Hatchery had a cost of $453 for every one harvested. In past economic evaluations there were seldom, and I do not remember any, that calculated the cost of a harvested fish. For most species and hatcheries the cost of a harvested fish was higher than the benefit, so many hatchery programs were operating as deficit programs. In once case the cost of a harvested salmon was over $890,000, indicating there are some gold plated salmon in the river. Following this trial economic evaluation (phase I) the IEAB asked the Council staff permission to conduct an economic review of all hatcheries in the Columbia River basin. That permission was never granted. I am now asking that this complete economic evaluation be completed. There has been some discussion of my request, however, I sense that there is still some resistance. Even though these are public dollars being used to produce hatchery fish, the public would be less disturbed by not knowing what their money is buying.