Return of the Fish Wars: Hatchery pits environmentalists against tribe

Al Jazeera America posted up a new story today that shows how the Fish Wars from decades ago still echo in the battle over hatcheries, tribal fisheries management and salmon recovery:

In 1992, the tribe won a long battle to remove the dams and rehabilitate the entire watershed. The Lower Elwha and their federal partners — the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey — took the lead on this vast, $325 million project. The first blast of dynamite came in 2011; last year, the Elwha River saw its best returns of fish in three decades: 4,500 adult chinook and 1,200 steelhead, the two most critical species.

But some of the restoration work is unfolding at a new hatchery on the Lower Elwha reservation. There, thousands of spawning adult fish are captured for their sperm and eggs, resulting in millions of artificially bred juveniles.

The tribal hatchery is controversial: a dark stain upon a rare, hopeful environmental story. In 2012, a few months after the dam removal began, Wild Fish Conservancy and three other nonprofits sued to stop the Elwha hatchery from releasing so many tiny fish. The tribe itself was not a defendant in the case, but its hatchery managers were, along with several federal agencies.

The Elwha people are all fishers of a sort: for subsistence, recreation and commerce. “The median income for the tribe is still very low, so [the salmon] are an opportunity for some of the tribal fishermen to make some income,” says Elofson, the river-restoration director. “We’d like to see our tribe in an above-average position instead of trailing behind in terms of income and education.”

Read the entire piece here.