What would you get if you mixed a feral dog with a wolf in the wild? What would the offspring be like? And what if you did that again and again and again . . .
That’s basically what state fish biologists and fishery user groups are arguing about, and will be until the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission makes a decision early next year whether to curb or curtail salmon hatcheries.
Biologists are concerned about breeding between hatchery fish and wild stocks. Lots of research suggests the mingling produces a strain of wild offspring that are less hardy. That means human intervention – the hatchery – has harmed the natural species.
Of course, there’s research that says just the opposite. That’s why user groups, such as the South Coast Angler’s Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (S.T.E.P.) are troubled by the hatchery shut-down proposals being considered.
“That’s the whole problem,” South Coast Anglers S.T.E.P. President Bruce Bertrand told us earlier this week. “They say there’s a chance it might cause a problem. But where’s the science to back it up?”
There are other reasons the group is concerned, too, starting with an estimated $4.6 million per year that salmon and steelhead harvests bring to South Coast communities, according to the visitor promotional organization Travel Oregon.
A quite different concern comes from fisheries biologist James Lichatowich. He’s studied salmon for 40 years and recently published “Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist’s Search for Salmon Recovery.”
Lichatowich sees validity in the state’s plans to restrict mixing of wild and hatchery stocks. The plan calls for establishing strict ratios of wild versus hatchery stock in the rivers. But he thinks the state’s plan falls short because there’s no clear plan to evaluate the health of the salmon after the hatcheries are closed.
“Basically, we’re trying to get by on the cheap,” Lichatowich told us.
Our concern is that once again in the conflict between conservation and desire to use the land may come down to politics and practicality, not science.