Hatchery returns, and it is telling (there once was a viable lower Snake River dam removal debate going on that is being swept away by the false promise of hatchery returns), began eclipsing the returns of wild spawners of spring and summer Chinook in the mid-1980s, but wild fish had some winning years between 1985-1999, but since 2000 hatchery returns are far eclipsing their more important wild cousins. Why is that? Is it that we are flooding the streams with big, fat, lazy, born with silver spoon in their (ok hatchery food pellet) in their mouth fish, which in turn compete with the ever dwindling wild fish?
Hatchery steelhead have been out returning their wild cousins since Reagan's first inaugural. Sockeye, well, we all know about the plight of the sockeye. Wild sockeye actually went extinct (though Larry's genes were saved) and now we have hatchery sockeye far exceeding their naturally spawned cousins. Wild fall Chinook in the Snake tanked in the early 1970s and around 1983 we started seeing hatchery returns of fall Chinook and by 2001 and ever since those hatchery runs far exceed the wild spawners.
I hope the great unwashed are still with me at this point, because I'm about to let loose a truth that I often espouse on this website. WILD SALMON AND WILD STEELHEAD ARE THE ONLY FISH THAT MATTER IN REGARDS TO THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT AND INDEED IN REGARDS TO RESTORATION OF A KEYSTONE SPECIES THAT SUPPORTS DAMN NEAR EVERYTHING IT SWIMS NEAR.
You can make hatchery fish until the cows come home (which is sort of like a hatchery return) and you will have done nothing to remove wild salmon and steelhead from the Endangered Species List, you will not have restored any stocks of fish to viability and you will have actually weakened the gene pool that could very well lead to a series of populations crashes that guarantee the extinction of the most important, iconic species in the Pacific Northwest (and you thought it was the spotted owl).
I just want to reiterate that this is a problem, it is a problem that isn't catching any traction and I blame anglers, by in large, for this, because most of you are tickled pink to have the opportunity to hook into these hatchery fish when they return. It's truly an epidemic of monumental proportions that we have here, where one of the groups that is most affected by our failed manipulations of salmon and steelhead runs aren't just silent on what changes have to be made, but you almost seem to be rooting for the wrong team to win. Those fish you have to throw back because they've got all their parts (great unwashed they clip the adipose fin on the hatchery fish so anglers will know what they can keep and it helps us with our never-ending census taking at the dams) those wild fish, angler friends, are the only fish that matter here. And if you get in the boat that wants to save them with real (and I admit drastic) change that will see to their survival one day you won't have to inspect the adipose fin because you can keep the wild ones too.