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Commentaries and editorials

We Need Hatcheries

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, December 6, 2010

Until there is a better alternative

Few news stories arouse such intense debate as those about salmon hatcheries. Les Blumenthal, a talented reporter working for the chain that owns newspapers in Tacoma, Anchorage and elsewhere, waded into a big brouhaha last week with a piece claiming that too many hatchery salmon are threatening the survival of wild runs in the North Pacific.

Mostly based on research and comments by a private fisheries consultant in Seattle, Blumenthal's story begins with a provocative contention that the North Pacific may be running out of fish nutrients because nations around the Pacific Rim have increased hatchery production in recent decades.

Besides those in the U.S., which are currently under a federal threat of cutbacks, hatcheries in Canada, Russia, China and Japan have increased production from 500 million in 1970 to 5 billion in 2008, according to Gregory Ruggerone of Natural Resources Consultants. Even after factoring in the tremendous mortality of hatchery fish, he says this has doubled the number of adults vying for survival in the ocean.

Citing unnamed studies, the story claims competition for food is driving down the size of salmon, making them more vulnerable to predators, while some runs are declining in overall quantity. (But here on the Columbia, although coho struggled a bit in 2010, the adult chinook count at Bonneville Dam exceeded 809,000, compared to 480,000 in 2009 and the 10-year average of 624,000.)

Needless to say, Ruggerone's claims are nutritious fodder for those who see all hatcheries as evil transgressions on the natural order. However, just as in physics where every action has an equal and opposite reaction, in salmon management any assertion will quickly be met with sharply contrasting theories and facts.

Some of the reader reactions in the Anchorage Daily News are at least as interesting as the story itself:

We enthusiastically second the need for better leadership and improved information about ocean conditions. And we need to stick with hatcheries until somebody funds a better alternative.

Editorial Board
We Need Hatcheries
The Daily Astorian, December 6, 2010

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