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)