You can read about the study here or a shorter version is here or another shortened version is here. I want to focus on a few things that were said in the longer Oregonlive.com article, because they are telling, but first, the basics should be reviewed.
The study was done by Mark Christie, an Oregon State genetic researcher and Michael Blouin, an OSU professor, Melanie Marine of OSU and Rod French of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The study found that genetic adaptation of hatchery steelhead hurts wild spawning success in just one generation. It doesn't take numerous generations to start destroying the gene pool with fish adapted for crowded hatchery runs rather than wild, free flowing river environs. This is immensely important to understand. We cannot rely on hatchery fish to be a savior of wild salmonids. Hatcheries are no Noah's Ark. They ain't the second coming and this study confirms that when we get to their seconds, we can expect to see a 71 percent decline (I'll say it again, a 71 percent decline) in productivity after spawning in the wild. That is hatchery fish that had greater success in returning to the river with five or more siblings versus other hatchery fish that had less success in being their brother's keeper. This is important, this study suggests that those hatchery fish that are most successful at returning to the river are the least successful in productively spawning. You mix them with the tiny amount of wild fish we have left and you weaken the gene pool and the entire population can crash and you almost have Jim Lichatowich's great book title, except it is Rivers without salmon and not Salmon Without Rivers (which you should buy and read, great book).
Now to a couple of points I want to make that might not be obvious to the casual reader. A lot of Pacific Northwest Tribes have embraced supplementation (the use of hatchery broodstock to be allowed to spawn in the wild when they return) and they do this because as with all promises made to the tribes by the federal government, it is another promise broken as wild salmon are about 10 percent of historic numbers (even in the "good" years). I understand the want of using hatchery supplementation to rebuild declining or extirpated stocks of wild fish. I really do, I had this dream as well. But supplementation from hatchery fish is just that; a dream. It's not real and the more we do it, especially in places where we still have wild fish returning every year, we threaten to destroy those stocks as well.
And so, I am bothered by a couple of comments in the first story I directed you to above.
"It's important to remember that hatchery supplementation is a response to declining or depressed salmon populations, not the cause," said Peter Galbreath, a fishery scientist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Supplementation is necessary "to rebuild populations at desired levels while we await, probably naively, rectification of the source problems," Galbreath added.
He is right about that, supplementation is only a response to the fact that the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do nothing for salmon recovery and everything for salmon extinction. Oh sure, they spend millions and millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars applying a bandage on everything but the problem, rather than what should be done, which would be to run a Roto-Rooter through at least four lower Snake River dams and allow the Snake to run free again.
What bothers me the most about that statement, and truly it isn't the statement from the article that peeves me the most, is that is born of desperation. It's "please, we can be happy with crumbs if that is all we can have." I would rather the statement not bury the lead. He should have began with and perhaps ended with some version of rectifying the source problems, which are dams and habitat destruction. Those are the real problems and you can't fix a problem until you start calling it out at every opportunity. And when the opportunities don't present themselves, you make the opportunity and point it out again and again and again until those lower Snake River dams are breached. That's how you win. You don't win when you concede that you are waiting and probably (not probably) "naively" for the rectification of the source problems (dam breaching, restoration of habitat). It does irk me a bit when advocates for salmon feel they have to concede the only points that matter.
It irked me even more though when I read this quote...
"In my opinion, the question of whether genetic change occurs in hatcheries has been answered," Blouin said. "If we could quit arguing about that and find out why, then we're all on the same team again."
And, admittedly I may be reading more into this than Blouin meant, but the comment seems to be wrongheaded. What same team are you talking about. There are people who want wild salmon and there are people who want to make millions and millions of salmon using someone else's money so they can say "we tried, see how hard we tried, just so you would shut up about some fish." The BPA and the Corps of Engineers aren't on the wild salmon team, they never were and never will be. They are on the team that says rivers are to be reshaped to our needs and the critters be damned (pun intended). They are on the team that is more than happy to throw half a billion dollars at the "problem" so long as that money doesn't ever affect the franchise, so to speak. And the franchise will always be the dams to them. Don't fall for the "effort" they put into salmon recovery. They've been throwing YOUR money at this problem for what now, 20 years? Something like $10 billion down the drain and more of YOUR money to be spent and no, absolutely no, discernible improvement in our salmon runs. You have to come to the conclusion that they are either highly incompetent (likely considering who I am referring to) or not interested in doing what they already know would have to be done to save our wild salmon (even more likely).
This statement by Blouin is also troubling me because it seems to point to some future effort to make our hatchery fish more like wild fish, rather than simply fix the problem of dams and habitat destruction. What is this, some fish version of the bionic man about to be hatched (we can build them stronger)? He seems to be heading down some path where if they can figure out a few things genetic wise in the hatchery (not unlike the Nez Perce hatcheries and their supplementation programs) where they will come out one day in the future and revamp all the hatcheries (some hundreds of millions of your money they will spend to rebuild all the hatcheries to make some better product). I used the word product there for a reason. That is what those uninterested in real salmon recovery think of these fish they make. They are a product used to buy off enough people, be they sport fishermen, tribal fisheries, what have you to get you to forget that their dams are killing off the really special wild salmon and steelhead.
I don't need to know why these genetic changes are occurring in the hatcheries. I knew they were already and I already know how we save wild salmon and steelhead and it won't be by making better hatchery fish, or more hatchery fish, or by court-ordered spill in perpetuity, or by paying bounties to kill off salmon eating fish, or by moving colonies of birds to California, or by killing, harassing and moving sea lions, or by anything short of breaching some dams.
Someone might read this and think I am unwilling to collaborate or compromise, nothing could be further from the truth. My salmon have to traverse eight dams to and from the ocean, and I'm only asking that we get rid of half the dams. That's compromise in my book.