Monday, December 19, 2011

Hatchery Impacts on Wild Salmon and Steelhead

The following summary is my attempt to provide each of my readers with a well documented list of impacts that hatcheries impose on wild salmonids.  This information will allow you to understand the hatchery reform needed to reduce impacts on wild salmonids.  In the Northwest fish management has embraced the hatchery option for over 130 years as a way to "mitigate" for watershed development at the expense of wild salmon and steelhead.  This approach has promoted the degradation of watersheds and is forcing the replacement of wild native stocks with artificially propagated fish that have reduced reproductive success and interfere with the health and productivity of wild salmonids.  What is missing in the Northwest is a wild native salmonid conservation program that effectively protects wild salmonid productivity, identity, and abundance.

The listing of wild stocks under the federal ESA has resulted in little benefit to wild salmon and steelhead populations but it has justified $1 Billion in annual funding for salmon recovery.  The ESA has expanded the hatchery solution to wild salmon decline and the fish management agencies have been the primary beneficiaries of this annual flow of public tax dollars into the region.

It should be kept in mind that the primary goal of fish management agencies is not recovery of wild salmonids but to maintain an endless process of planning and the funding it provides.  The goal is process not conservation and recovery.  The only way that this perversion of the ESA will come to an end is when the wild salmon go extinct or are recovered.  Another way, of course, is causing the agencies to be accountable for their programs, actions and expenditures.  That requires oversight by government.  It takes an independent review to make the agency bosses uncomfortable.

The brief summary on the impacts of hatchery production below is focused on how hatcheries affect the viability of wild salmonids.  It needs to be expanded to include harvest reform measures, but it does capture the need to have minimum spawner abundance objectives that would be delivered by species for each watershed as purpose of harvest management.  These science based recommendations are sound and they can be done, but the fish managers are not comfortable applying science to their management, so progress will be resisted and defeated without a strong push by those interested in wild salmon and steelhead recovery.

By Bill Bakke

  • Naturally spawning hatchery fish from long term hatchery cultivation produce 6-11% to the adult stage compared to wild fish. ( Leider et al. 1989, Araki et al 2006)

  • In the first generation native broodstock hatchery fish (using wild steelhead for hatchery broodstock) the reproductive success of the hatchery fish spawning naturally in streams declines by 14% (males) and 2% (females) compared to wild fish spawning naturally in the river. (ISRP 2011)

  • In later generations (second and third) the reproductive success of native broodstock hatchery steelhead spawning naturally in streams is 50% (males) lower and 77% (females) lower than naturally spawning wild fish. (ISRP 2011) 

  • There is a genetic change in the hatchery steelhead that carries over to naturally produced progeny of hatchery-origin parents causing reduced reproductive fitness of wild-born descendants in the wild and the population fitness of subsequent generations. (Araki et al. 2009, ISRP 2011)

  • In just 6 generations native broodstock hatchery steelhead reproductive success is 29% to 54% that of wild steelhead. (Berntson 2011)

  • In order to maintain cost effective hatchery programs, access to healthy abundant wild steelhead populations is required. (Based on research by Araki et al. 2008)

  • In order to protect and rebuild wild salmon and steelhead populations harvest targeted on hatchery fish must be regulated to protect wild spawner abundance, spawner abundance goals need to be adopted by species and watershed, hatchery transfers among watershed need to be eliminated, and naturally spawning hatchery fish need to be excluded from wild fish spawning areas. (Conclusions base on best available science)

  • Impacts of hatchery fish on wild fish must be controlled so that competition for food and space for rearing juveniles in streams and the estuary support wild fish survival, predation and predator attraction by hatchery fish is controlled to protect survival of wild fish, and nutrient enrichment targets from natural spawning wild fish support and expand the productive capacity of the habitat. (Conclusion based on best available science)

  • Competition between wild and hatchery fish spawning naturally in a common habitat can reduce the production of wild juveniles by 50% (Kostow  2004)

  • The cost to produce a hatchery steelhead that contributes to the catch is $200 to over $400 per fish harvested.   Most hatchery programs funded with tax dollars are not cost effective, making the hatchery program vulnerable to loss of funding as hatcheries compete for funding with other social needs for available dollars. .  (Hans Radtke 2011, IEAB 2000)

Sunday, September 4, 2011



We have all heard of natural selection, a concept created by Charles Darwin in 1859. It is the primary way in which animals and plants adapt to their environments through sexual reproduction.

There is another form of selection having to do with cultural forces, a system of beliefs, assumptions, and values. Institutional selection imposes compliance among people in agencies and business. If one wants to rise within the institution a clear record of compliance to institutional values and beliefs is required. These selective factors are often unspoken, but those who want the institutional rewards are nonetheless very much aware of them.

Public agencies are influenced by having to be responsive to public concerns and involve the public in policy development. The problem for the agency is that the public can interfere with agency culture. They are constantly having to deal with public proposals and are obligated to hold public hearings on issues that can result in agency change. For this reason public agencies have developed a sophisticated resistance to outside interference. As one administrator once told me if you poke us too much in one direction, we build a callus.

The first level of resistance comes when the agency is confronted with a policy change over how it administers its system of assumptions, beliefs and values. The public initiatives arrive without invitation from outside the agency. As one director of the Oregon fish and wildlife department once said, “we can recover salmon if the public would just stay out of our business.” This candid burp was rather revealing for its honesty.

Public agencies are also burdened with a commission that can, when they feel forced, be responsive to public initiatives to change agency policy. The commission is always a wild card that the agency staff is constantly worried about, for it could mean a reflexive change in the why things are done, so they spend a lot of time tuning the commission up to support staff’s natural abhorrence to any change whatsoever. But change happens and the agency has developed a way to slow change down and defeat it, if given enough time.

The first thing that staff does with cooperation of its legal department is make sure that any policy change has no clauses of accountability embedded in it, something the public can use to pester the agency about non-compliance through the courts. So all policy changes are cleansed of deadlines, deliverables, numerical values or anything else that the public can use to threatened the status quo of agency operations.

Another useful tactic is to know your public. This is necessary because the agency is often called upon to assemble a public advisory group to help in the process of policy development. A useful precautionary tactic is to stack public advisory groups with people who are supportive of the agency status quo, but to appear non-partial they appoint one or at the most two people who are progressive in their views knowing they can be controlled or out voted. A novel refinement of this tactic is to invite people who are opposed to the agency altogether. They are useful in creating conflict with the feared change makers giving the agency the middle ground. For example, when deciding the Native Fish Conservation Policy, the ODFW invited the private property advocates to the table. These folks were opposed to fish protection because they believed private use of land was threatened. Including them on a committee to develop conservation plans for the protection of native species insured conflict. This was an unusually perceptive adjustment by staff to protect the agency status quo for it created a strong opposition to those seeking a strong conservation policy and at the same time gave the agency staff the middle ground. The staff ran shuttle diplomacy between the two opposing groups in the committee, telling each one what they wanted to hear, thus strengthening the conflict. This increased the agency capacity to maintain the status quo.

Another artful dodge is to maintain a policy in draft form for as long as possible so that it is not binding on the agency and no matter how hard the public might press them to implement the policy, the agency reminds them that it is only a draft.

These tactics are for the single purpose of protecting the agency from change, especially those threats generated by the public.

Once a policy development committee is seated, it is obvious to the agency staff that change is inevitable, so additional tactics are necessary to slow change down.

The second level of resistance is to not implement or make implementation impossibly slow so that those wanting change get busy on other things and public pressure is dissipated. Too often the public assumes that once a policy is adopted by the agency and becomes administrative law, that the agency will practice due diligence and implement that policy. The public spends a lot of time in policy development but attention wanes when it comes to carrying out the policy on the ground.

When the Oregon department of fish and wildlife adopted the Oregon Wild Fish Management Policy in 1978 and revised it several times later to remove legal handles that could prove inconvenient, it was discovered that the policy was not actually being applied agency wide. The policy was never popular and it was left up to staff to implement if they wanted to do so. The environmental advocates for this policy assumed that it was being applied across the state to provide protection for wild fish and were shocked to find out that it was an elective.

When the public was successful in convincing the commission to implement a slot regulation for Deschutes River trout fishery, one agency administrator complained that ODFW no longer managed the Deschutes, the public did. The slot regulation did away with bait and allowed a restricted kill of trout in number and size. This lead to a catch and release fishery, which is not favored by an agency that believes a kill fishery is the only way to sell licenses.

The following is provided to show just how strong resistance to institutional change can be. The Oregon Legislature passed a state law that said it is the obligation of the fish and wildlife department and commission to “prevent the serious depletion of indigenous (native) species.” Serious depletion was not defined so the agency had plenty of interpretation room to avoid compliance. The ODFW commission got into the act and said that the law also directed the agency to provide social benefits and concluded that conservation was balanced by the requirement to provide those benefits such as harvested fish. They developed a code for killing fish called “fishing opportunity.”

At the request of the public, the Oregon Attorney General’s office provided the ODFW with its assessment of this statute in 1997 and again in 2003. In those legal reviews the agency was told that its “overriding obligation is to prevent the serious depletion of indigenous species” and the agency is unable to provide social benefits unless this happened. Thus, the balancing argument of the ODFW commission was set aside, but their dedication for it was not.

Also at the public’s request, the ODFW director distributed the 1997 legal opinion from the AG’s to the staff so they would be fully informed about the law and their obligation to it. However, this law did not mesh well with the understood institutional mission of the agency by staff. One did not advance their careers by being an advocate for wild fish. One staff person who left ODFW told me he left because he did not like getting in trouble for following the rules.

In 2003 the AG’s office once again reminded the agency of its overriding obligation to protect native species from serious depletion as they sought to adopt the Native Fish Conservation Policy. In 2010 this state law still has no real traction within the agency in their day to day management. It was disturbing when a commissioner told me that he did not know how to deal with this responsibility.

It can be argued that when the state assigns a species as sensitive, which means it is precarious and vulnerable to extinction, or when a species is provided protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, that it is certainly seriously depleted. With regard to ESA-listed species, the states must get coverage from the National Marine Fisheries Service to run its hatchery and harvest programs. This would appear to be a serious check on any agency’s institutional mission, but it isn’t, for even though the federal agency requires the agency to justify its actions, it is not often different from what the agency would have done anyway. The only difference is the additional paper work.

In the state of Washington, the WDFW commission adopted a Wild Salmonid Policy. The director that led this adoption struggle and the staff person that drafted the policy lost their job soon after this policy was adopted. Since its adoption, the agency has quietly ignored it for it requires change in hatchery and harvest structures that have been in place a long time.

More recently, the WDFW commission adopted a Wild Steelhead Management Plan. This plan calls for Wild Steelhead Management Zones to be adopted. The public requested this and was successful. However, when asked why there has been little movement in setting up Wild Steelhead Management Zones, including the 20 that the public recommended, they are given a number of reasons.

The first artful dodge is that this policy is still in draft form so it is not binding on the agency. That reasoning inflames the public so other reasons had to be found. Since their co-managers, Native American tribes, did not sign this policy, the agency cannot implement it. That is a better excuse because someone else is to blame. When reminded that the WDFW has an obligation to secure 50% of the available harvest for its constituents in a shared resource with the tribes, there is ample room to provide for wild steelhead management zones. When the public advocates are willing to forgo harvest to increase the spawner abundance of steelhead in these WSMZs it is unreasonable to allow the tribes to harvest the forgone and so-called surplus from the recreational fishery. But because the agency does not establish a steelhead harvest management plan prior to the fishery starting, it claims there is no power to make changes to protect spawners and achieve spawner escapement goals in each river that is co-managed. So the agency, by not doing its job creates an excuse to harvest all the fish, including those needed for spawning. In order to do this and still appear to be managers of good faith, the recreational fishery is closed while the tribal fishery continues to fish. The conclusion is that wild steelhead are not getting the needed protection.

In lower Puget Sound hatchery fish harvest zones were created to maximize the harvest of hatchery coho. Wild coho spawner objectives by watershed have not been established because that would interfere with the harvest of hatchery fish. A recent petition to list wild coho in Puget Sound by the public is an attempt to correct this problem. By not protecting wild spawner abundance the WDFW is ignoring the best available science that has been in place for 72 years following the research of Willis Rich.

The conflict over conservation of native wild fish populations is created by the fish management agencies. As one retired ODFW biologist told me, wild fish and their habitat are irrelevant to the agency. They manage by a simple model of stocking hatchery fish and running kill fisheries. If one challenges that, one threatens the institution that is based on an industrial model of production and consumption where wild fish are considered a constraint on commodity production.

Fish and wildlife agencies have developed an elaborate resistance to changing their institutional structure of beliefs, assumptions and values. Even though they are public agencies they have created proven ways to blunt the effect of public reform efforts. They have rationalized state laws when they are in conflict with agency operations. They are able to do this because elected officials such as legislators, Congress, and governors, are not interested in resolving the problem.

The public makes its demands and it can have a modest effect on the institutional culture of fish management, but unless the public is fully engaged constantly, agencies find a way to step around and reduce the effect of the changes. The public cannot assume the fish management agency will follow through on its commitments, tell the truth or follow the law, and for that reason, the public needs to be organized so that it is applying pressure constantly year after year to make sure conservation policies are implemented.

Most public groups are themselves not organized to be vigilant protectors of Nature. For one thing policy development and accountability do not sell as well to foundations as do “shovel ready” short tem action projects that have a short life span. First the environmental groups need to make a commitment to follow through on policy development and implementation and find the donors that will help make that commitment a real force for conservation. The other important thing to do is work to elect public officials that actually care about how the state and the nation is protecting the environment and to have elected officials leverage the public’s concern for protecting nature.

Lacking that commitment the public groups are constantly fighting a rear-guard action plan and responding to crisis issues. This means that the agencies will not be reformed, and in the case of salmon, wild native species will not be recovered and there will be no end of populations being listed as endangered species and the rapid rate of extinction will not be addressed. Public agencies are organized to serve the narrow interests of their constituents rather than maintain the productivity and benefits of natural resources they are charged with protecting for the public good.

Recommended Reading:
Jim Lichatowich, Salmon Without Rivers
Lichatowich and Williams, Failure to incorporated science into fishery management (see the Native Fish Society web page for this article)
Rick Scarce, Fishy Business


In 2001 Bob Hooton, fish biologist for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, evaluated the impact of bait, lures and flies on steelhead and resident fish. This paper reviews what is known through scientific evaluation of relative impacts of these fishing types.  I have provided a few interesting quotes form this paper below.

“During the Keogh River experiment, it quickly became evident that, in order to obtain the requisite sample size of steelhead hooked on artificial lures, it was necessary to commence angling sessions with that gear type.  Despite a strong bias towards artificial lure fishing prior to using bait, lures caught 99 fish while bait produced 236 or 2.38 times as many for similar hours fished.  Additionally artificial lures caught fish were hooked deep inside the mouth or gill arches and bleeding heavily in 4 of 99 cases (4.04%).  Bait caught fish were similarly hooked in 26 of 236 records (11.02%) or 2.72 times as often.”

“During the Keogh hooking mortality study discussed earlier a total of 130 and 206 
steelhead were angled in study years 1985 and 1986 respectively (Hooton, 1987). The
weir count of adult steelhead over the period that angling occurred downstream from the
fence was used to provide a reasonable approximation of the percentage of the run
captured in the time allocated. In 1985, the data revealed that project staff fished 117
hours to catch 130 steelhead that represented about 27% of the fish available. In 1986,
121 hours were angled to catch 206 fish that represented about 19% of the supply. In
other words two anglers fishing an average of one hour per day over a two month period
caught roughly one quarter of the population one year and one fifth the next. All of that
occurred in about 50 meters (164 feet) of river.”

“More recently Keogh project technicians involved in requisite sampling of steelhead
upstream from an electronic counter captured 45%, 62% and 30% of the total available
supply of steelhead in 1998, 1999 and 2000 respectively. For 2001 to date the figure
stands at 51% (personal communication, Bruce Ward, Senior Anadromous Biologist,
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, University of BC, Vancouver). These catch
rates resulted from two staff fishing for an hour or two per day over several kilometers of
a river that is not held to be particularly accessible or “fishable” by most steelhead
anglers. All of the fish were angled with bait.”

“What we can say, however, is that angling with baited hooks is prevalent in streams
where it is legal, that angling with bait generally results in substantially higher catch rates
and mortality rates for both target and non-target fish than angling with any other gear
type, that many of the wild steelhead stocks subjected to this combination of factors are
far below target escapement and that the status of non-target stocks and/or species is
frequently as bad or worse than steelhead.”

Catch and release may have been oversold in that there tends to be a pervasive opinion it can be prosecuted limitlessly with no influence on the status or health of steelhead or sympatric species. With respect to fluvial resident trout populations it was accepted long ago fish are too catchable and prone to hooking mortality to sustain fishing with certain gear types. Resident fish are simply that – stationary inhabitants of the available habitat. Arguably, steelhead in most of British Columbia’s short coastal streams, are effectively resident trout. Their vulnerability is entirely comparable to fluvial resident trout.”

Rearing juvenile steelhead and resident fish are affected by gear type:
“With respect to fluvial resident trout populations it was accepted long ago fish are too catchable and prone to hooking mortality to sustain fishing with certain gear types. Resident fish are simply that – stationary inhabitants of the available habitat. Arguably, steelhead in most of British Columbia’s short coastal streams, are effectively resident trout. Their vulnerability is entirely comparable to fluvial resident trout.”

““Bruesewitz (1995, WDFW) examined the location of hooking among creeled summer and winter steelhead in different Washington State streams in the 1992, 1993 and 1994 sport fisheries. She found that the single hook and bait combination resulted in a 2.33 times higher incidence of hooking in critical locations (14.9% versus 6.4%) than did single hooks and artificial lures.”

Exposure to air and mortality rate:
Ferguson and Tufts (1993) reported disturbingly higher mortality among domestic
rainbow trout subjected to air exposure after mimicked angling events than for control
fish or experimental fish not exposed to air. Their data revealed 100% survival among
control fish and 88% survival among exercised (i.e., “angled”) fish. Among fish that were
exercised and then exposed to air for 30 and 60 seconds immediately thereafter,
survival dropped to 62% and 28% respectively. The authors stressed their results had
important implications for Atlantic salmon sport fisheries where the marked trend was
toward catch and release but where anglers habitually hold fish out of water for
significant periods of time prior to release.

Influence of multiple captures on fish mortality:
The influence of multiple captures of individual steelhead is another element of many
British Columbia steelhead fisheries that remains to be evaluated. Catch and tag
recovery data from a large number and range of Ministry programs indicate that in many
heavily fished streams steelhead are commonly caught two or more times. It is
reasonable to conclude the frequency of these occurrences has increased steadily over
the past two decades. The emerging and unanswered questions are whether or not
there are cumulative effects associated with multiple captures and how significant these
are from a population perspective? It is clear from the available CPUE (and mortality
rate) data presented above, however, that any risk of sub-lethal effects associated with
multiple captures would be skewed markedly toward gear types and procedures that
increased an individual fish’s frequency of exposure to those circumstances.”

Hatchery fish increase angling pressure and wild steelhead mortality
“Close examination of Steelhead Harvest Analysis (SHA) data reveals a consistent pattern on streams where hatchery steelhead have been introduced. The years immediately following first returns of harvestable hatchery fish display pronounced
increases in angling effort and record high estimates of wild steelhead caught and
released (mandatory). Catches tend to have been sustained despite conclusive
evidence of declining abundance in index streams.”

Anglers can choose to protect wild steelhead
“The angling community may wish to contemplate leaving a smaller and softer
footprint on all wild fish or risk the steady erosion of longer term opportunity. A sobering
reality is that the trends in stream fishing opportunity throughout virtually all of
southwestern British Columbia have manifested themselves in a very few generations of
steelhead. Ignoring history and assuming trends will be stabilized or reversed in the
absence of attention to fishing impacts is unlikely to produce a desirable outcome.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In a recent conversation with an executive of the ODFW fish division about releasing hatchery steelhead in the Sandy River, Oregon, the assertion was made that these hatchery fish had no impact on wild steelhead.  That is a statement of fact, so I asked for the supporting data.  After a bit of dithering, he admitted that this conclusion was indeed only an assumption. 

Apparently, biologists that hold important political positions within an agency or those that have an agenda regardless of their pecking order within the agency, feel comfortable making factual statements even though they have no facts to back them up.  Typically, the public has been conditioned to accept a strongly stated assertion at face value.  After all, why would they lie?  The public trust is easily violated by agenda driven agency functionaries. 

Years of scientific studies costing thousands of dollars have shown that the release of hatchery steelhead has an impact on the health, abundance, and status of wild steelhead in our rivers.  The public pays for these studies and should expect that what is learned would be applied to management decsions by government agencies, but there is no obligation for an agency or its personnel to use this information in their work.  

What are some of the facts about releasing hatchery steelhead in streams already occupied by wild steelhead? 

“Hatchery steelhead displaced wild O. mykiss in 79% of the contests observed between these groups. Our results indicate that the behavior of hatchery steelhead can pose risks to preexisting wild O. mykiss where the two interact.”

That is a startling fact discovered in 1999 by McMichael and others doing a study of hatchery and wild steelhead interactions on the Yakima River.  That fact was documented 12 years ago.  I wonder why it the ODFW biologist did not use it to at least question his assumption that releasing hatchery steelhead had no effect on wild steelhead in Oregon?  Maybe he did not know about this study and maybe since it was from a Yakima River study in the state of Washington, it somehow does not apply to Oregon rivers. 

What else did the scientists find out about hatchery steelhead impacts on wild steelhead in the Yakima River?

“Strategies to minimize undesirable risks associated with behavior of released hatchery steelhead should be addressed if protection and restoration of wild steelhead stocks is the management goal.”

That is interesting.  Maybe this ODFW biologist is not interested in the protection and restoration of wild steelhead in the Sandy River?  But I am sure he must be concerned for after all the wild steelhead are threatened with extinction and their recovery is his responsibility. His agency has even underscored that responsibility in the form of policy when in 2003 the ODFW commission adopted a rule that says protection of native fish is the primary goal of the agency.   Even Oregon state law directs the agency to prevent the serious depletion of native species.  That has been confirmed by the Oregon Department of Justice to mean that the department and the commission have an overriding obligation to prevent the depletion of native species.  I would be surprised if this legal direction did not also include agency biologists and executives. 

I was surprised by the comment of an ODFW biologist that had left the agency for another in state government.  When I asked him why he had left ODFW he simply replied: “I wanted to work for an agency where I did not get in trouble for following the rules.”


McMichael, Geoffrey A.; Todd N. Pearsons; Steven A. Leider. 1999. Behavioral interactions among hatchery-reared steelhead smolts and wild Oncorhynchus mykiss in natural streams. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Vol. 19, Issue 4. pages 948-956.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Fertilizers boost declining B.C. fish populations

Fry grow up to 95-per-cent bigger in streams treated with nutrients, fisheries biologists say


Young steelhead and salmon grew dramatically in streams seeded with sacks of slow-release fertilizer, a method that shows real promise to help rebuild collapsed spawning populations, according to B.C. biologists.

VANCOUVER - Young steelhead and salmon grew dramatically in streams seeded with sacks of slow-release fertilizer, a method that shows real promise to help rebuild collapsed spawning populations, according to B.C. biologists.

The method has proven effective at improving steelhead growth and survival in Vancouver Island streams in programs dating back to 1989.

Steelhead fry in treated areas are typically about 95-per-cent larger than those in untreated streams, while coho fry are about 40-per-cent bigger. Fish counts in the Keogh River found a 50-per-cent increase in the number of coho that survived the freshwater stage of life.
Fisheries biologists are using fertilizers to replace the nutrients that would be added to the stream naturally by the rotting carcasses of fish that die after spawning, said Kevin Pellett of the B.C. Conservation Foundation. Enhancement programs are operating in 15 watersheds and 28 rivers on the Island and southwestern B.C.

When spawners fail to return, die and rot due to overfishing or ecological conditions, the entire food chain of the stream, from algae and insects to fish fry, goes into decline.
The fertilizers are designed to stimulate growth of certain algaes that in turn cause the populations of insects such as mayfly and stonefly to thrive. Juvenile salmon and steelhead fry feed on those insects.

“When you fertilize a stream it really stimulates algae growth,” said Pellett. “It’s the brown slime that we are really after because the key insects prefer the brown diatomaceous algae.”
Steelhead fry growing downstream from the fertilizer caches are bigger and typically 75- to 250-per-cent heavier than those upstream, which would not be expected to benefit from the improved food supply, according to the most recent data. Larger, more robust fish are more likely to survive and return as spawning adults.

“When those fish go into key overwintering periods, that’s where you see a lot of mortality,” Pellett said.

“The bigger those fish are, the more of them will survive.”

The first application of fertilizer is timed to benefit the tiny steelhead and coho fry that hatch and emerge from the stream bed gravel in the early spring.

Since the first stream enhancement programs started in 1989, a variety of fertilizers and delivery systems have been employed, including liquid fertilizers and fish meal.
“We’ve since switched to a new product called Crystal Green,” he said.

Crystal Green is a slow-release agricultural fertilizer comprised of nitrogen and phosphate recovered from municipal waste water using a technology invented by civil engineers at the University of B.C. The Vancouver-based manufacturer, Ostara, is harvesting a waste material called struvite for the fertilizer from the sewage stream in suburban Portland.

“This is not a panacea, but it is a good tool to increase productivity and it may increase the rate of rebuilding [spawning populations] if we see an increase in the ocean survival,” according to Greg Wilson of the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations.

“Struvite is one of the most cost-effective techniques that we have to help out populations,” said Wilson. “Using recycled phosphorus really reduces the carbon footprint of the project, because fertilizer is quite energy intensive to make.”

Testing on Crystal Green showed the material is extraordinarily pure with few measurable contaminants or metals.

“It’s the cleanest fertilizer we’ve ever worked with,” said Wilson.
Metro Vancouver is running a pilot project at the Lulu Island sewage treatment facility to produce its own version of the fertilizer to be used in the Seymour River, Wilson said.

Crystal Green Pellets are dropped into the stream in burlap sacks, which decay over time. That simple system eliminates the need for expensive liquid fertilizer delivery systems that require maintenance and that are prone to vandalism.

The concept of fertilizing fish habitat dates back thousands of years to China, where carp ponds were fertilized with human feces, Wilson explained.

More recently, the federal and provincial governments have partnered with conservation organizations since the 1990s to fertilize a number of lakes in B.C. with the aim of improving trout and kokanee salmon populations.
Nutrient additions to the Allouette Reservoir in 1999 generated a 12-fold increase in the resident kokanee population and sparked the first adult sockeye returns to the reservoir since 1928, he said.

That unexpected result gives fisheries biologists hope that this approach could help B.C.’s collapsed salmon spawning populations recover enough to become self-sufficient again.
Steelhead and coho in the test streams benefit from two seasons of enhanced growth, the first as tiny fry and the second as a smolt ready to begin its adult life.

Pellett says hatchery data show that the larger salmon smolts are when they leave freshwater for salt water, the more adult spawners return. Fertilizer-based enhancement programs are sending bigger smolts to sea and more smolts overall.

“The more smolts we send out the more adults we get back,” he said.
As spawning populations grow, the rotting carcasses of dead spawners are expected to regain their position as the natural source of elemental nutrients in spawning streams.

“We are starting to see critical mass developing in the steelhead and coho populations on Vancouver Island,” Pellett said.

The Vancouver Island fertilizer enhancement programs are run by the B.C. Conservation Foundation with support from the province, Living Rivers — Georgia Basin Vancouver Island, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and a handful of other conservation organizations.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Friday, March 18, 2011

Transgenic salmon and humility

MARCH 17, 2011, 8:30 PM
Frankenfish Phobia
Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.
At a time when the shell of the earth has cracked and the ocean heaved a mortal wave upon a shore of vulnerable nuclear plants, a small miracle is playing out in the biggest river of the American West. Spring Chinook salmon, the alpinists of the maritime world, are following biological imperative and climbing their way up the Columbia to spawn and die.
They are returning from a life in the distant Pacific, swimming home to a grave in gravel, some going almost 1,000 river miles inland. Chinook are the largest salmon, easily the most tasty, and perhaps the most imperiled.
Given the demand for salmon, it is no surprise that a Frankenfish has emerged — a lab-created hybrid that could soon become the first genetically engineered animal approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption. The company behind these manufactured fish promises that they will not affect ones from an ancient and wild gene pool.
Here we go again. It is human to think we can trick nature, or do it one better. It is human to think a tsunami would never knock out a nuclear plant, a hurricane would never bury a city and a deepwater oil drill would never poison a huge body of water. In the gods of technology we trust.
Until they fail. And then, we feel helpless and small and wonder what they — or we — were thinking.

The fate of wild salmon and a panic over power plants that no longer answer to human commands would not seem to be interlinked. But they are, in the belief that the parts of the world that have been fouled, or found lacking, can be engineered to our standards — without consequence. You see this attitude in the denial caucus of Congress, perhaps now a majority of Republicans in power, who say, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that climate change is a hoax.
The newfangled fish comes from AquaBounty Technologies, a company in New England, where many species of the water world are now extinct. They have patented an “AquAdvantage Salmon,” a sterile Atlantic female with a Chinook gene that can “grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon,” says the company.
Consumer groups, and a bipartisan cluster of Congress that has not forsaken reason, are fighting fast-track Food and Drug Administration approval. They are also insisting that if the Frankenfish comes to market, the new salmon would have to be labeledtransgenic — over the company’s objections.
Wild salmon require so much work: they need clean water, a bountiful ocean and restraint to ensure that they aren’t fished out of existence. Vigilance, and a small amount of sacrifice — what a drag.
The alternative, some feel, is to create something under human control. What AquaBounty would do is to take the Chinook gene and splice it into a farm-raised Atlantic. A third fish, an ocean pout, which looks like an eel on a bad fin day, would provide the genetic code that allows AquAdvantage Salmon to grow so fast. Voila: fast fish from the factory, without the hassle of habitat preservation.
I’m not reflexively afraid of living better through chemistry. Genetically modified corn and soybeans have been around for some time. If we can grow food and fiber with less demand on water and nutrients, that’s often worth pursuing.
But the Frankenfish is a much bigger step, and not just because it opens the door to federal approval of all kinds of freaks from the farm. Splice a breast-heavy chicken with a pellet-loving pig and you’re into some seriously modified “other white meat.”
With wild salmon, many people wonder what all the fuss is about. In the Northwest, salmon is our symbol, even if we’ve so mismanaged their spawning grounds with dams and overfishing. Where once there were perhaps 20 million salmon returning to the Columbia, that number now is barely a million in some years.
Alaska has done much better. They have the world’s largest wild salmon runs because they’ve protected habitats, kept water quality fairly good and regulated fishermen.
These new salmon, AquaBounty says in its pleadings before the government, will not harm the ones handed down by the ages. There is “virtually no possibility of escape and interaction with the wild population,” company officials say.
Why do I not feel reassured? The last quarter century has bred skepticism into me, beginning with a personal experience in 1986. We were in Italy, my wife pregnant with our first child, when the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew. The Soviets lied, and covered up the accident.
But what soon became clear — that a runaway reactor had spewed more than 400 times the amount of radioactivity into the environment than that released by the atomic bomb over Hiroshima — made us tremble. For days, along with the rest of Europe, we watched the pattern of a huge radioactive plume, as officials warned that pregnant women were at particularly high risk.
Luckily, the radioactive cloud never came our way. But given the choice between the hard work of trying to respect the laws of nature, and the engineered solution, I’ll take the seasonal miracle of wild salmon — and try to learn something about humility.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lubchenco Is The New Cheerleader For The Status Quo

By Demian Ebert 

In a recent commentary in The Oregonian, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated that salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin is now being guided by science and pointed to increased survival of juvenile salmon and improved returns of adult salmon as validation of recovery efforts. But attributing improvements in salmon and steelhead returns to the recovery program alone is misleading. 

Survival of juvenile salmon in the Columbia River has increased because of improved passage conditions, due largely to increased spill at the dams -- ironically, an action that was imposed on federal agencies by court order. Improved ocean conditions have resulted in increased adult returns for some populations of salmon and steelhead. Unfortunately, most of the returning fish are from hatcheries. Wild fish populations remain far below recovery levels. 

Although Lubchenco asserted that science supports the NOAA plan, a comprehensive review by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society concluded the plan relied more on monitoring than on specific actions -- monitoring that's adequate for tracking the status of salmon, but not adequate for ensuring their protection and recovery. 

Let's face it: Science alone will not guide salmon recovery; ultimately it will be a societal decision. But the public should not be misled into believing that the best available science has been fully implemented, as NOAA contends. Many human actions have contributed to the decline of the Columbia runs of salmon and steelhead, including habitat degradation, overharvest and poor hatchery programs. Dams, reservoirs and operation of the hydropower system have been major contributors to the decline -- especially for Snake River populations -- and are also contributing to the decline of other native species, notably the Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon. Yet much of the NOAA recovery approach is a tacit acceptance of the status quo when it comes to the hydropower system. 

In 2000, the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society -- representing hundreds of fishery professionals -- passed a resolution that "The four lower Snake River dams are a significant threat to the continued existence of remaining Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks; and if society wishes to restore these salmonids to sustainable, fishable levels, a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams, and this action must happen soon." We reaffirmed this resolution in 2009. The Idaho Chapter and Western Division of the American Fisheries Society, collectively representing thousands of aquatic scientists, have also passed similar resolutions. 

Furthermore, results from a scientific assessment -- a five-year effort of regional scientists convened by NOAA -- indicate that the action with greatest certainty of recovering Snake River salmon and steelhead is breaching the lower four Snake River dams. 

Yet NOAA now considers even the study of breaching the Snake River dams to be essentially an action of last resort, triggered only when fish runs fall to perilously low numbers. Should society decide to implement dam breaching, many years of study and planning would be required. Comprising several generations of fish, this could severely limit the value of the action if important salmon and steelhead populations go extinct before the first shovel of dirt were moved. 

Lacking the information necessary to assess the technical, physical and biological effects of breaching the Snake River dams, NOAA cannot meet its stated objective of using the "best available science" to develop recovery actions. 

The Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society encourages a proactive, comprehensive study of dam breaching, with independent and open scientific review, so that this recovery action could be thoroughly considered and implemented in a timely manner. Hundreds of dams in the United States have been removed, with a growing record of immediate and positive responses by rivers and native fish. If society decides recovery of these imperiled fish is truly important, we should consider this science-supported recovery action for the Snake River and its fish. 

Demian Ebert is president of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. 

Published in The Oregonian March 11,2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Multiple Sources of Gene Flow into Wild Steelhead Populations

Molecular Biology 2011

Who are the missing parents? Grandparentage analysis identifies multiple sources of gene flow into a wild population

Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-2914, USA

In order to increase the size of declining salmonid populations, supplementation programmes intentionally release fish raised in hatcheries into the wild. Because hatchery-born fish often have lower fitness than wild-born fish, estimating rates of gene flow from hatcheries into wild populations is essential for predicting the fitness cost to wild populations. Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) have both freshwater resident and anadromous (ocean-going) life history forms, known as rainbow trout and steelhead, respectively. Juvenile hatchery steelhead that ‘residualize’ (become residents rather than go to sea as intended) provide a previously unmeasured route for gene flow from hatchery into wild populations. We apply a combination of parentage and grandparentage methods to a three-generation pedigree of steelhead from the Hood River, Oregon, to identify the missing parents of anadromous fish. For fish with only one anadromous parent, 83% were identified as having a resident father while 17% were identified as having a resident mother. Additionally, we documented that resident hatchery males produced more offspring with wild anadromous females than with hatchery anadromous females. One explanation is the high fitness cost associated with matings between two hatchery fish. After accounting for all of the possible matings involving steelhead, we find that only 1% of steelhead genes come from residualized hatchery fish, while 20% of steelhead genes come from wild residents. A further 23% of anadromous steelhead genes come from matings between two resident parents. If these matings mirror the proportion of matings between residualized hatchery fish and anadromous partners, then closer to 40% of all steelhead genes come from wild trout each generation. These results suggest that wild resident fish contribute substantially to endangered steelhead ‘populations’ and highlight the need for conservation and management efforts to fully account for interconnected Oncorhynchus mykiss life histories.

New Study: Hatchery Fish Reduce Productivity of Wild Fish

Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 68(3): 511–522 (2011)  |  doi:10.1139/F10-168  |  Published by NRC Research Press   

Reduced recruitment performance in natural populations of anadromous salmonids associated with hatchery-reared fish

M. W. Chilcote, K. W. Goodson, and M. R. Falcy

Abstract: We found a negative relationship between the reproductive performance in natural, anadromous populations of steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), coho salmon (O. kisutch), and Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha), and the proportion of hatchery fish in the spawning population. We used intrinsic productivity as estimated from fitting a variety of recruitment models to abundance data for each population as our indicator of reproductive performance. The magnitude of this negative relationship is such that we predict the recruitment performance for a population composed entirely of hatchery fish would be 0.128 of that for a population composed entirely of wild fish. The effect of hatchery fish on reproductive performance was the same among all three species. Further, the impact of hatchery fish from “wild type” hatchery broodstocks was no less adverse than hatchery fish from traditional, domesticated broodstocks. We also found no support for the hypothesis that a population's reproductive performance was affected by the length of exposure to hatchery fish. In most cases, measures that minimize the interactions between wild and hatchery fish will be the best long-term conservation strategy for wild populations.

The full study can be seen at the Native Fish Society: