Several weeks ago the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a document that supports adding some hatchery-raised fish to the 28 Pacific Coast salmon and steelhead stocks currently listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The agency identified 23 hatchery programs producing fish genetically similar to their wild counterparts and proposed that these fish should have the option of federal protection. The 23 programs are primarily in Oregon and Washington, but there are some in Idaho and one in California.
NMFS recently completed a required five-year review of listed species and plans to make no changes to the threatened or endangered status of salmon and steelhead populations found in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The review included 330 hatchery programs in the four north-western states. About half of these programs are enhancing listed salmon and steelhead populations, while others are producing fish for anglers. The NMFS document proposes eliminating five of the hatchery programs from ESA listings, and adding the 23 identified for a net increase of 18.
Rob Jones, with the NMFS oversight program for hatcheries throughout the region, said that there has been an evident shift in hatchery and fishery managers’ approach to enhancing ESA-listed stocks.
Jones explained that to help “endangered” or “threatened” wild stocks of salmon or steelhead, western hatchery managers could go in one of two directions. They could make the juveniles they produce genetically similar to the ESA-listed wild stocks and then release them back in among these wild stocks. Or, they could put less effort into genetics and release the juveniles into separated areas, so they wouldn’t “water down” the ESA-listed fish’s gene pools. The hope was that these implants would “take” and produce new populations separate from the ESA-listed stocks.
The trouble with the second (separation) option was that steelhead and salmon have a habit of straying into other watersheds, thus potentially watering down the gene pool.
Even though it’s generally understood that hatchery fish are not as resilient in the wild as wild fish, science, as well as trial and error have increased the knowledge of how to produce hatchery fish that are not only genetically similar but stronger and better able to survive.
Public comments on the federal proposal were being accepted through December, 2016
– Quentin Dodd