Hatchery vs Wild Symposium

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I went down to Portland to check out the Hatchery vs Wild Salmonid Symposium put on by the American Fisheries Society. Given the title, and AFS’ history of fish conservation work (including endorsement of Snake River dam removal) I figured it would be a relatively balanced examination of the science around this issue. What a disappointment.

What we heard from the presenters–mostly biologists and managers from state Departments of Fish & Wildlife, fisheries schools, tribal hatcheries and federal agencies–sounded a lot more like a factory production report to a corporate board of directors. Lots of terms like “production schedules” and “new lines” of fish “designed” to meet various human needs.

We also heard over and over again about evidence that hatchery fish have a negative impact on wild fish populations. But nobody mentioned the importance or value of wild fish, or biodiversity or the overall ecology. Instead, they outlined plans to design, engineer and manage their way out of what, according to their own research, appears to be a broken system.

It became abundantly clear that the hatchery industry is just that: an industry. And the people working in it are doing everything they can to keep the industry afloat in spite of all the scientific evidence they themselves reported.

After 12 hours of presentations spread over two days, I left with mixed feelings. On one hand, the amount of effort (and cost) going into trying to fix hatchery problems, with nobody ever questioning the actual concept, was beyond depressing. On the other, the one-sided nature of the symposium put into stark relief the ridiculousness (and again, cost) of trying to do something better than Mother Nature. I think when the general public finds out how much of their money–billions of dollars–is being spent in this effort, some serious change will take place. That gives me hope.

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