RE:2/7 WSJ article: Hatchery fish vs. Natives
It would be nice if we didn't rely on hatchery fish for the contined runs of our salmonid stocks, however, the fact is that in some cases hatcheries are required to keep the fish coming back. I know some of you will disagree - and don't get me wrong, I am not a huge proponent of hatchery reliance, but if you look at the situation here in the Northeast (US)we wouldn't have any salmon returning (primarily in the southern extreme of their range, but also to an extent in Maine) if it were not for the federal hatcheries. We have altered the systems to such an extent (i.e., dams and other watershed alterations) that we have lost all of the genetic material unique to the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers. In order to attempt restoration there is the need to use hatcheries. Of course up in Maine where there is still some natural production going on there is a debate about how the use of hatchery fish for supplementation has diluted, and continues to dilute the genetics of the offspring produced in the river. When you add in the problems associated with aquaculture operations you can see that there is the potential for undesired effects.
What that guy videotaped on the West Coast may have been distastefull for him to witness, but he may not have the full story. Those fish are semelparous (spawn once and die) and perhaps (i don't know) there were some conditions upstream that were not favorable for spawning (i.e., effects of logging, blocked passage, etc.) and in order to not lose a year class they had to strip the fish of milt and roe for hatchery propogation. Again I don't know the circumstances, but perhaps they had already determined that there were enough fish already on the spawning grounds to permit the taking of excess individuals for planting them in another tributary. That would get into a little bit of a grey area, but just because a guy witnessed something doesn't mean he knows all the answers.
Most of the money used for the support of hatchery programs is provided by mitigation money from dam operations - so that should point you in the direction of the real problem, and that is dams and the inability of the dams to effectively pass migrating fish (upstream and downstream). If the mortality associated with dams was reduced, either through the removal, re-engineering of the fishways, or just the alteration of flows to increase survival and decrease timing of migration, we would not have to rely as heavily on hatcheries. But, big business (i.e., aluminum and shipping concerns in the Lewiston, ID area for instance, commercial fisheries, and native subsistence fisheries) and the politicians that represent them put up all sorts of roadblocks - preventing solutions from being put in place, even in the face off all the biological evidence. However, I do think the pendulum is starting to swing towards protection of the resource, but by the time the majority recognize the benefits and demand we change how we operate, it may be too late and we may have lost the stocks.
One last thing - although the motives for the guy with the video may be pure, he may unwillingly fall into the trap of being used by interests that don't have anything else on their mind but the bottom line. If they can promote the fact that it is hatcheries and not bad logging practices (not all logging is bad - it is mostly a road design and construction issue), subsidized electricity production, and irrigation issues that are to blame for the decrease of salmon then they shift the focus from them. Buying a little more time to make the cheap buck and not thinking about the long term.