Friday, July 17, 2009

Support Wild Salmonid Management Zones

Around the state of Washington the widespread practice of hatchery supplementation is having a severe detrimental impact on wild salmonids. Through interbreeding, competition, predation, and disease hatchery supplementation limits the productivity of Wild Salmonids. Furthermore the fitness and survival of hatchery fish is considerably lower meaning that the number of adults returning per each smolt released is very low when compared to wild stocks. Unfortunately, for too long hatchery supplementation has occurred in nearly every watershed in our state and along with the host of other problems including environmental degradation and overharvest it is leading to further declines in wild populations.

In response to these challenges many scientists, advocates and anglers have called for setting some river systems aside from hatchery supplementation. Focusing on those river systems which represent important spawning tributaries in a region, the most intact habitat, distribution and abundance of wild spawners and finally those which host a particularly valuable diversity of life histories or species. These special Wild Fish only watersheds are called Wild Salmonid Management Areas and adopting this sort of riversystem scale of conservation is the best way to ensure we have viable wild salmonid stocks now and forever.

This past Fall a group called the Steelhead Summit Alliance met to discuss the implementation of these WSMZs and to prioritize watersheds for protection, using a scientifically based set of criteria they chose 19 watersheds and wrote formal rule change proposals to the state of Washington asking for WSMZ designation. Among the watersheds they chose are some of our states most productive and most imperiled, the Hoh, Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Snoqualmie, Deer Creek and many more. With the state currently reviewing these rule change proposals it is critical that the public shows support for the process so please take a few minutes to write the fish and wildlife commission, WDFW and the Governor and tell them to please adopt the WSMZ rule changes.

A few talking points.

-hatchery fish have considerably lower fitness in the wild meaning their offspring survive poorly, even when one parent is wild. When they spawn with wild fish they reduce the fitness of the entire wild stock through genetic introgression

-hatchery fish are larger than wild smolts when they outmigrate and may be major competitors for resources in the early marine environment. Survival in the early marine environment is thought to be critical for overall survival from smolt to adult.

-there have been a number of incidences of hatchery facilities releasing diseased fish in recent years, posing an unacceptable risk to wild stocks.

-harvest pressure targeting hatchery fish has a severe impact on wild stocks and has led to a major shift in Steelhead spawn timing. Diversity is critical for adaptation with environmental change.

-hatcheries may support much larger numbers of predators than a wild population can sustain. As a consequence unnatural predation pressure may limiting wild stocks.

-Finally, the state has long acknowledged the need for these actions. The HSRG stated that widespread hatchery supplementation poses a serious threat to wild steelhead and salmon and the state steelhead management plan called for the creation of wild fish management zones to protect the integrity of wild populations.

More information and access to the rule change proposals at WDFWs website

Contact WDFW at:

Contact the Fish and Wildlife Commissioners at:

Governor Gregoire

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