Monday, January 30, 2012

Making Hatcheries More Accountable

Summary Comment
By Bill Bakke
For the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee
Oregon Legislature
January 18, 2012
The accumulated evidence from both scientific and economic analysis over the last 130 years shows that salmon and steelhead are declining and that management investments have failed to mitigate for the loss and have been unable to recover the diversity, productivity, and abundance of wild salmonids in Oregon and the Northwest ecosystems that support them.  This evidence suggests that our response and our investments to curb this decline are not working.  They are not working because we are more concerned about hatchery production than with restoring the productivity and resilience of salmonid populations adapted to individual watersheds. 

The solution appears to be deceptively simple, but it isn’t because the institutions we fund with public money and rely upon to solve complex problems of salmon and steelhead recovery and watershed productivity have not been held accountable for their performance. 

The Legislature can help solve this problem by directing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to enlist the aid of the Department of Administrative Services to contract for a risk and benefit assessment of the fish propagation program by an independent outside source with the necessary expertise to do the work.  Funding for this assessment is currently available in surpluses to ODFW’s Commercial Fish Fund and Other Fund accounts.  It is appropriate that fishing interests, who are the direct beneficiaries of the hatchery program, be the ones to pay for the cost of assessing the benefits and risks of the hatchery program.

The Legislature should also add a performance measure for the agency that would establish a process to assure the Legislature that ODFW is complying with the recommendations that come out of this assessment of the hatchery program.

These actions are needed because the evidence points out these facts:

  1. Salmon and steelhead are 3 to 5 percent of their historic abundance
  2. Many populations are threatened with extinction and under federal protection
  3. Hatchery fish survival is only about 10% of that for wild salmonids with a range of 6-45 percent
  4. Hatchery fish contribute to the decline of wild salmonids
  5. Many if not most hatchery programs are deficit spending programs
  6. Hatchery productivity and cost effectiveness rely on having access to wild stocks
  7. As hatchery costs increase and benefits decline funding will become a more critical problem
  8. Continuing the conflict between hatchery performance and cost with wild salmonid productivity and recovery will continue to have a substantial impact on Oregon’s fishing economy  

Saturday, January 28, 2012



“In the Clackamas River basin, the summer steelhead hatchery adults had poor reproductive success; fewer smolts were produced per parent than in the wild population, and almost no offspring of hatchery fish survived to adulthood (Kostow et al. 2003). The hatchery program was meant to provide a sport fishery, and the production of adult offspring was not intended. If successful hatchery reproduction had occurred, at least the offspring could have contributed to fisheries. Instead, the hatchery fish wasted basin capacity by occupying habitat and depressing wild production while producing nothing useful themselves. It is not unusual for hatchery adults to have poor reproductive success when they spawn naturally (other examples are provided by Reisenbichler and Rubin 1999, Kostow 2004, and McLean et al. 2004). The combined effect of poor hatchery fish fitness and depressed wild fish production due to competition with the hatchery fish poses a double jeopardy that could quickly erode natural production in any system.” 

Kostow & Zhou (2006) page 839:

Not only do hatchery fish waste habitat, making it less productive than it would be with wild salmon and steelhead spawners, the investments made in habitat restoration are also wasted when the habitat is over-run with naturally spawning hatchery fish.  When the benefits of habitat restoration are calculated the impact of hatchery fish on those benefits is never included. Habitat restoration is based on the dual premise that it improves the productivity of wild salmonids and that it is cost effective. It is also assumed that habitat is limiting in all cases and that to increase the production of wild salmonids habitat investment is necessary.  Because habitat restoration is typically not done within the context of fishery management by government agencies such factors as harvest and hatchery impacts are not addressed and the limitations these actions impose on the success of habitat investment is not acknowledged, evaluated and monitored.  

It is important that habitat restoration serves the fish, improves watershed productivity and benefits other wildlife and not become an official deception.  Habitat restoration should not be used by agencies to escape their accountability to protect wild salmonids and the healthy watersheds they require to be self-sustaining.