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Saturday, April 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Hatchery report urges restoring wild salmon
By The Associated Press
The team of nine scientists, called the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, was put together by Congress in 1999 to address federal, state and tribal concerns over the effect that hatchery salmon had on wild stocks.
The report dealt specifically with Western Washington hatcheries.
The scientists found that hatcheries can continue to be important to recovery efforts in Washington, but that managers in many watersheds need to do a better job of balancing the demands of fishermen with those of wild salmon.
"The old model was, we figure out how many fish we want to catch, and we'll build hatcheries that will produce the fish that will go out and be caught," said Barbara Cairns, executive director of Long Live the Kings, which oversaw the project. "We need to stop thinking about hatcheries as factories that produce fish, and start thinking about them as tributaries of the watershed in which they reside."
The report comes at a crucial time in the hatchery-vs.-wild-salmon debate. A federal judge recently dissolved Endangered Species Act protection for coho salmon off the coast of Oregon, ruling that both wild and hatchery-raised fish must be counted when determining whether a species is threatened. The National Marine Fisheries Service is weighing how it will protect salmon in light of that ruling.
The hatchery fish are generally bigger than their wild counterparts and thus can compete more easily for food upon release, but in the long run, their instincts are worse. They die at much higher rates than wild fish, many scientists say.
Armed with $20 million from the federal government and $8 million from the state, the team working on the Hatchery Reform Project spent a year designing its study and then three years visiting, evaluating and changing the way things are done at more than 100 hatcheries.
Four of the scientists came from state, federal or tribal agencies; five were from independent groups, such as the University of Alaska and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They hope to receive another $3 million from Congress to continue implementing their recommendations.
Their report includes more than 1,000 recommendations, from shutting down ineffective hatcheries to halting the use of saltwater net pens a practice that has largely already been abandoned in the past three years because it does not ensure that the fish return to a specific stream to spawn.
It also suggests the hatcheries of the future will not be large concrete structures. Instead, the scientists emphasized more natural settings, such as ponds where the salmon can compete for insects and other food while honing their instincts.
"It's not the number of fish you're producing, it's the quality of the fish," said Jeff Koenings, director of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
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