RETURNING SALMON POSE A DILEMMA
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Thu Mar 23 12:32:54 EST 2000
>From The Sunday Oregonian, March 19, 2000, pB6
RETURNING SALMON POSE A DILEMMA
With a boost in fish arriving at hatcheries, the practice of killing the
excess creates a furor for fisheries officials
By JONATHAN BRINCKMAN, The Oregonian
Salem - Oregon fisheries officials expect hatcheries to kill more
spring chinook than usual this year to prevent them from spawning in the
wild, and they're bracing for a storm of protect.
The hatcheries' practice of killing some salmon without using their
eggs for breeding has come under intense criticism in the past few
A California property rights group has filed lawsuits seeking to
halt the killing of what state fisheries officials call surplus salmon.
A Philomath banker, outraged by the practice, has traveled the Northwest
showing a videotape of hatchery workers clubbing salmon with baseball
bats last fall. radio talk show hosts and angry callers have hammered
the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
State officials say the destruction of excess hatchery fish is
necessary to protect wild salmon runs.
Improved ocean conditions and greater restrictions on sport and
commercial fishing will boost returns of hatchery fish this spring,
state fisheries officials say. An estimated 40,200 more spring chinook
than are needed for breeding could arrive in the next few months at 10
state hatcheries, the state's top fisheries official told a legislative
task force Friday.
Majority will be killed
Although some of those fish will be allowed to spawn in the wild,
the vast majority will be killed. Their eggs will be destroyed or sold
"We anticipate that the killing of returning adults at these
facilities will generate public controversy," said Doug DeHart, chief of
fisheries for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Fisheries officials will meet Wednesday with Gov. John Kitzhaber's
staff to decide how to explain to the public why excess hatchery salmon
are killed, DeHart said. "We want to use our admittedly limited
resources to get information to people in a way that's usable," DeHart
told the Coastal Salmon Restoration and Legislative Task Force.
This year's projected return of hatchery spring chinook, though not
a record, is the largest in five years.
DeHart said a big reason is the fishing regulations that were
intended to protect wild spring chinook, which include Willamette and
Columbia river populations listed as threatened under the federal
Endangered Species Act. because hatchery fish return at the same time as
fish born in the wild, regulations that protect wild fish result in
fewer hatchery fish being caught.
Run lasts through May
The fish have begun arriving at hatcheries in the Willamette River
and its tributaries, at hatcheries on coastal rivers such as the Rogue
and at Columbia River hatcheries. Spring chinook will run through late
All hatcheries kill returning hatchery-bred fish and use the eggs
and semen to produce the next generation. Most hatchery fish are
identified by their clipped adipose fin. Wild fish are allowed to spawn
naturally in a river or stream.
Sometimes more hatchery fish return than are needed for the next
generation. Usually, those fish are killed to prevent them from
overwhelming wild populations of salmon.
Most fish biologists say that hatchery fish are not as well adapted
to the wild and that allowing them to spawn naturally would eventually
weaken the genetic characteristics of the population. That actually
could cause an overall decline in salmon numbers.
In past years, most of the fish carcasses have been sold to
companies that turn them into fish food for hatcheries. This year,
DeHart said, the state will take additional steps to keep excess
hatchery fish from being wasted:
- Fisheries officials will make it a top priority to place carcasses
in streams. The decaying bodies of spawned-out salmon historically have
been an important source of nutrients for young salmon and other
- The agency will experiment with trucking excess hatchery fish back
downstream to give anglers another chance at catching them. Frustrated
by stricter catch limits, sport fishers have been loud critics of
hatcheries that destroy excess salmon.
- The agency will sell fish suitable for human consumption to
wholesale fish dealers or donate them to food banks and charities.
Critics are unlikely to be satisfied with those efforts.
Timothy Harris, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said
his organization thinks the excess hatchery fish should be allowed to
spawn in the wild. The foundation, a property-rights advocacy group
based in Sacramento, Calif., has allied itself with Ron Yechout, the
Philomath Banker who video-taped hatchery fish being clubbed to death at
the closed hatchery on a tributary of the Alsea River.
"I continue to think it's ridiculous to kill these fish," Harris
said Friday. "By destroying fish, they are manufacturing a crisis and
making sure that salmon will always be considered threatened and
But several members of the salmon task force said Friday that
criticism of the state's practice of killing surplus fish reveals
ignorance of the role and operation of hatcheries.
Killing excess hatchery fish is necessary because too little
spawning habitat lies upstream from hatcheries for both wild fish and
hatchery fish, one task force member said.
Task force members also called it absurd to think that hatchery fish
are killed to keep threatened and endangered salmon populations from
rebounding. That's one of the arguments the California legal foundation
"The conspiracy theory would not hold water if people knew the
facts,' said Frank Warrens, an Astoria charter boat operator.
"We're all like, "Give me a break,'" said Paul Heikkila, vice
chairman of the task force. "A lot of people seem very confused and are
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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