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Scientists: Hatchery, Wild Salmon Different

by Mitch Lies, Oregon Staff Writer
Capital Press, April 2, 2004

A team of scientists last week published a report contending that hatchery fish should not be included with wild stock when determining if a species merits protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The team concluded in the report published in Science magazine that there are “important biological differences between wild and hatchery fish” and that counting them as one distinct species could mask declines of wild stock and increase chances of the stock’s extinction.

The report was drafted in response to a Sept. 10, 2001, ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan that the National Marine Fisheries Service must include hatchery stock with wild stock when counting populations of coastal coho salmon.

The ruling, in the case brought by Alsea Valley Alliance, removed Endangered Species Act protection for coastal coho salmon and is expected to lead to the delisting of the fish when NMFS releases new population numbers later this year.

The ruling was upheld Feb. 24 by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The report, published in the March 26 issue of Science, was hailed by Joe Whitworth, executive director of Oregon Trout.

“This essentially validates what we have been saying all along: That these are two distinct population segments and the only way to retain management control is to separate them,” Whitworth said.

Rob Rivett, a principal attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, which argued the Alsea Valley Alliance case, criticized the report, however, for not addressing current hatchery practices.

“It appeared as though the focus of the report was on hatchery practices that are old and antiquated,” he said. “I would have hoped they would have looked at the new strategies that have gone into hatchery practices.”

If the authors had considered new hatchery practices, Rivett believes they would have developed different conclusions.

“Hatcheries do a lot of different things nowadays to make sure the hatchery and naturally spawning fish are compatible,” he said.

The report, co-authored by scientists from six different universities, notes that historically, hatchery supplementation has not resulted in the maintenance of viable natural populations; that hatchery fish usually have poor survival in the wild; and that abundant hatchery supply can enhance predator populations.

The authors write that lumping hatchery fish with wild fish “could have devastating consequences: Wild salmon could decline or go extinct while only hatchery fish persist.”

The authors include scientists from University of Halifax; Princeton University; University of California, San Diego; Florida State University; University of California, Santa Barbara; and University of Washington. Robert Paine of U.W. was lead author of the report.

Rivett said the report can’t be used to reopen the Alsea case.

“They are trying to create political pressure, it seems to me, to manipulate future determinations of what is defined as a distinct population segment.

“They want to make sure species are still listed to control farm and forestry activities,” he said.

Whitworth, meanwhile, said Oregon Trout has no plans to sue an agency for failure to list a species.

“We don’t want to sue. We just want them to get it right,” he said.

NMFS, meanwhile, last week asked for an extension until June of a March 31 deadline to release new population counts for 27 listed salmonids.

Mitch Lies, Oregon Staff Writer
Scientists: Hatchery, Wild Salmon Different
Capital Press, April 2, 2004

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