There’s no question that hatcheries have a role to play in salmon recovery, but hatchery fish aren’t wild fish, just like hatcheries aren’t habitat.

Hatcheries are absolutely needed to support some wild salmon stocks. Without them, those fish would disappear. Hatcheries make sure we have fish to catch. If we didn’t have hatchery salmon, no one would be fishing. Tribal treaty fishing rights would be meaningless.

Yes, hatchery fish are part of the answer to salmon recovery. Hatchery fish were never meant to replace wild fish, though, and we have to make sure that never happens. Only wild fish can carry us into the next century and beyond.

One of the main reasons hatcheries were built in the first place was to replace natural salmon production lost to dams, development, logging and other factors. But hatcheries can’t really make up for the habitat we’ve already lost – and the habitat we continue to lose every day. All hatcheries do is hide the problem for a while.

Lost and damaged spawning and rearing habitat are the main reasons why wild salmon stocks have declined. If we want to fix the salmon problem, we have to fix salmon habitat. We have to protect it. Restore it. Buy more of it. Cherish it. We have to remember that even a hatchery fish, once released, have the same habitat needs as a wild fish: lots of cool, clean water, diverse habitat with plenty of food , and access to and from the sea.

We have to go about fixing habitat like we’re tackling the other big factors affecting wild salmon: Harvest and hatcheries.

We have cut salmon harvests sharply over the past 20 years, in some cases as much as 90 percent. It’s been hard, but we did it because it’s the right thing to do. But no matter how much we cut harvest we can’t make up for lost natural production.

We are reforming hatcheries to aid recovery of wild salmon while supporting sustainable fisheries. Four years and $20 million have been spent so far. We’ve come up with more than 1,000 recommendations for changes at state and tribal facilities. Some hatcheries will close; others will reduce production.

If we are serious about salmon recovery – and I can assure you that the tribes are dead serious – we have to get serious about protecting and restoring salmon habitat. It’s the only way wild salmon recovery will happen.

In the meantime, we need the Endangered Species Act to continue protecting Puget Sound chinook, Lake Ozette sockeye and Hood Canal summer chum, the three salmon stocks in western Washington that are listed as “threatened” under the act.
There’s a good reason those fish are on that list: They don’t have a good place to call home. If we don’t do a better job of stopping the habitat loss, a lot more salmon will be joining them on that ESA list.

Tribes are concerned about protection of wild stocks.

Hatchery fish cannot be substituted for wild fish, and as such, most of the current listings are warranted.

Habitat protection and restoration are key to wild salmon recovery. Harvest has been cut sharply to protect weak wild salmon stocks. Hatchery practices are being reformed to minimize impacts to wild stocks.

But hatcheries are not a substitute for habitat. Loss and degradation of good spawning and rearing habitat are the single most significant factors contributing to the decline of wild salmon.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

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For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180