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Hatchery Management Bill Passes Oregon House

by Mark Engler, Staff Writer
Capital Press - May 16, 2003

SALEM, Ore. -- Salmon and steelhead reared in state hatcheries reared in state hatcheries and bred using wild brood stock would have to be allowed to spawn naturally upon their return from the ocean, if a bill that passed on the floor of the (Oregon) House of Representatives this week makes it on to the law books.

But House Bill 2459, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, doesn't have the support of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and it only passed on a 31-26 vote in the House. those factors could spell trouble for the bill in the Senate.

"At long last the 'fish is a fish bill' is here on the floor," said Kruse, by way of introducing HB 2460 for debate. Whatever political opposition to the contrary, Kruse said "common sense" is on the side of those who favor passage of the bill.

Kruse, a Douglas County farmer and turkey grower, argued that the bill is needed to combat the prevailing view that hatchery fish are genetically inferior to wild fish, or that hatcheries cannot be reliably used to bolster endangered salmon and steelhead runs.

Historically, there was merit to the argument that fish-breeding techniques used by ODFW were not adequate and that the agency's hatchery programs did not produce fish that could reasonably be described as "native" to a particular watershed, said Kruse. Over time, however, that has changed, and now state fish experts do indeed have the ability and knowledge necessary to ensure that the fish they are producing in hatcheries can spawn naturally in the wild and in fact help, rather than hurt, the genetic pool of wild fish, he said.

Kruse added that behavioral differences between hatchery and wild fish are usually due to the manner in which they are handled and fed before being released from captivity.

Research has indicated inn the past that certain feeding techniques employed by hatchery managers may reduce a fish's wariness, dulling its instincts to fear and avoid predatory threats in nature. But Kruse argued that whatever the behavioral difference between fish reared in hatcheries and those in the wild, any off-spring spawned naturally in streambed gravel would in no way be genetically predisposed to exhibit that potentially destructive unwary behavior.

"What we are trying to do is get genetically appropriate fish in our rivers to enhance salmon," said Kruse. "We're talking about the ability to restore fish runs here."

Passage of HB 2459 comes on the heels of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission's approval last week of a revised hatchery management policy. several lawmakers cited ODFW's improvements in hatchery policies as a central reason for voting against Kruse's bill.

Fish Division administrator for ODFW, Ed Bowles, who testified in opposition to HB 2459 in a committee hearing earlier this session, said at that time that while ODFW is committed to improving its hatchery program so as t better utilize native fish species in rearing operations, Kruse's bill would push the agency too quickly.

In an interview after the House floor vote on Monday, Bowles reiterated his concerns, and added that complying with federal Endangered Species Act requirements may in some cases preclude the agency from allowing hatchery fish to spawn upon their return.

"Some of our hatchery programs provide fish only for harvest opportunities, and if you allowed those fish to spawn naturally, those programs may no longer be compliant with some of our federal permit issues for the Endangered Species Act," said Bowles. "That would force us to ratchet down some of our fisheries programs, and the sportsmen would be the ones who would suffer from that."

Under the plan adopted unanimously by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, ODFW officials may allow hatchery fish to spawn naturally, but only if circumstance and science warrant. Bowles said the new ODFW policies are better suited for the wide range of situations and habitats in Oregon than the "one-size-fits-all solution" advocated by Kruse.

"Our new policies build in much more flexibility that allows us, based on public input and science, to custom-tailor our approaches to local watersheds," said Bowles.

The new hatchery policy approved by commissioners is said to be consistent with hatchery reforms also under way in the state of Washington that link individual hatchery programs with basin-wide management objectives.

"In a departure from historical management, future monitoring and evaluation programs will focus on the post-release survival of hatchery fish and impacts to natural populations," according to a statement issued by ODFW. "Previous monitoring programs focused on in-hatchery survival and contribution to fisheries."

The Hatchery Management Policy calls for the creation of hatchery plans that "clearly define the role of the program to benefit harvest opportunities or conserve wild fish, provide a survival advantage over wild fish, sustain production over time and minimize adverse impacts to wild fish and watersheds."

The new ODFW policy became effective upon passage by the commission.

Mark Engler, for the Capital Press
Hatchery Management Bill Passes Oregon House
Capital Press - May 16, 2003

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