Friday, December 16, 2011

Oregonian Story Highlights Nez Perce Hatchery

A very interesting article from last weekend in the Oregonian explored efforts by the Nez Perce tribe to recover Snake River chinook salmon using hatchery programs. Today more than 6 million juvenile chinook are released into the Snake system annually. Returns of chinook to the basin have skyrocketed over the last decade and a half from a low of 400 in 1990 to almost 43,000 in 2010. Wild returns have also increased and now make up about a quarter of the total return.

While hatchery advocates are quick to point at the Snake as evidence that hatchery releases can help rebuild struggling wild populations, federal fisheries managers are more cautious, fearful over the genetic and ecological consequences of massive hatchery production. Recent improvements in chinook abundance have come during a period when good ocean conditions and court mandated spill have led dramatic improvements in many populations throughout the Snake and Columbia, including those which do not have hatchery programs.Undoubtedly, releasing 6 million hatchery smolts each year will serve to increase the number of fish spawning in the Snake, however that may mask the long term erosion of local adaptation and reproductive fitness in the wild population. True recovery cannot be achieved until wild populations are capable of sustaining themselves at levels above NOAA's recovery goals, something which is masked and likely hindered by the huge numbers of hatchery fish returning to the basin each year.

More information in the Oregonian:

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