Wednesday, January 25, 2006 · Last updated 10:09 a.m. PT
Administration pitches new salmon policy
By JEFF BARNARD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Conceding that using hatcheries to supplement dwindling salmon populations is harming wild salmon species in some cases, the Bush administration plans to move away from the practice in favor of a more direct solution: Catch fewer fish.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, announced the new policy Wednesday at a meeting of salmon scientists, many of whom have concluded that wild Pacific salmon will become extinct this century without big changes in how the harvest is managed.
"Our goal is to minimize and, where possible, eliminate the harvest of naturally spawning fish that provide the foundation for recovery," Connaughton said in an interview with The Associated Press before his speech.
Scientists have long criticized hatcheries as producers of salmon that dilute the gene pool, spread disease and compete with wild fish for food and habitat, while being less able to survive in the wild.
Connaughton did not say how much the administration wants to reduce the wild salmon harvest or how many of the 180 federal, state, tribal and private salmon hatcheries in the Columbia Basin it wants closed. He said change will require the collaboration of regional federal regulators, Canada, Oregon, Washington and Indian tribes.
"We cannot improperly hatch and we cannot carelessly catch the wild salmon back to recovery," Connaughton said.
Salmon, an enormous part of the Pacific Northwest's economy and culture before and after European settlement, have been severely reduced by a combination of human factors, from overfishing and development to hydroelectric power dams.
Since 1991, 26 populations of salmon have been listed as threatened or endangered. None has been judged healthy enough to be delisted. Restoration efforts and technological fixes to dams have run up a bill of $6 billion over the past 10 years.
Connaughton, President Bush's top environmental adviser, outlined the new policy at the Salmon 2100 Conference, where scientists gathered to consider new ways to prevent the extinction of wild salmon.