In Missouri, I was the president of a chapter of Trout Unlimited, but there I was personally more concerned about smallmouth bass because they were a native fish and trout were just planted in the limited amount of coldwater streams Missouri had to offer. We were involved in planting trout in a winter trout fishery in a city lake, so our footprint on the natural world was rather limited, but elsewhere in Missouri the exotic sport fish species were rainbow and brown trout and at times they received more protection than the native fish.
I had this illusion about the American West and the fish in its streams. For some reason, even though I had read about the supplementation programs for salmon and steelhead and the problems with nonnative brook and lake trout, I was still shocked and disappointed when I got out here and realized the typical trout I would catch in a stream in this beautiful country that is West Central Idaho were likely raised in a hatchery or a descendant of some bucket biologist who dumped a bucket of eastern fish from atop some bridge along the railroad. The top sport fish in Payette Lake is mackinaw or lake trout, hatchery raised coho salmon are planted in Lake Cascade and most people just think they caught a nice trout (also stocked). We've got mountain lakes where an angler might hook into a brown trout, a descendant of a fish thrown in there some 20-25 years ago, or an Arctic Char. In Payette Lake, even the native kokanee are most likely completely hatchery influenced as they have stocked kokanee more than 20 times in the past 80 years in the lake. Most of the recent stockers having come from Deadwood Reservoir.
An angler, like me, in search of a native Westslope Cutthroat Trout, might hook a native, but I might also hook a hatchery grown version of the fish. Anglers who fish for salmon and steelhead can only keep the hatchery fish as the wild ones have to be put back. Anglers have been trained to throw back the salmon and steelhead that still have their adipose fin, a small fin on the back of the fish between the tail and dorsal fins. It's not a huge leap to say anglers would not want to lose the hatcheries, after all they were first devised for the Pacific Northwest as the thing that would make regulations on fishing obsolete, that they would create a fishing panacea. Of course, that never happened and as the number of hatcheries and subsequently the number of man made fish have increased, our wild stocks, indeed all our stocks of fish that once came back in the millions now come back at best at 10 percent those levels before man, in all his hubris, decided he could do better than nature in the creation of fish.
I know that 99 percent of the people who read this don't know why I would complain that we have hatcheries making fish, after all these hatcheries have allowed us to, for the time being, save the Redfish sockeye salmon and various other Snake River salmon stocks. I am alarmed by our constant "fix" being build a dam, build a hatchery to mitigate for it. It doesn't work.
I had this hope as many people do that perhaps these lifeboats or hatcheries could someday save the salmon by keeping them alive long enough to outlast man's incessant need to dam up every damn river he finds. This hope was born out of looking at supplementation programs from hatcheries where hatchery fish are allowed to come back and spawn naturally in the streams rather than get caught in a trap and be slit open or squeezed into the next generation of fish.
The research doesn't support this hope and it appears that when we let these hatchery fish spawn naturally they produce 40 percent less fish than their wild counterparts. Then you've got to ask yourself, do you want this sort of thing occurring? Do you want weak generations of fish propagating on their own in streams where wild salmon and steelhead need the habitat and if just given the chance of removing the dams that destroy their migration habitat those wild fish would recover on their own without our help? Do we want to continue polluting the gene pool?
True salmon recovery happens when we remove the destructive dams that have ruined the Snake River basin salmon and steelhead migration habitat and when we get out of the business of making fish. I know anglers generally think a fish tugging at the end of a line is a fish tugging at the end of the line and who cares about its origin, but it matters.
We cannot manipulate nature without consequences and we cannot recreate the creation without consequences. The consequences of damming the rivers and making fish in the Pacific Northwest is the extinction of Snake River salmon during this generation. That's a price I am unwilling to pay for the decisions of those who came before me. How about you?