August 8, 2010 in City

U.S. may limit fish hatcheries on Columbia

Interbreeding weakens wild salmon, biologists say
Associated Press

PORTLAND – Federal biologists will recommend four options for dealing with salmon hatchery programs that feed into the Columbia River Basin, the toughest of which would pull federal dollars from the programs.

If that step is taken, the Oregonian newspaper reported, it would halve the number of Columbia Basin steelhead and salmon taken every year.

Less-severe options are in the environmental impact statement being considered by the National Marine Fisheries Service, but all of it comes amid grim environmental news. Hatchery fish interbreed with wild fish, making wild fish more prone to disease. Hatchery fish also take up habitat and food sources and sometimes prey on wild fish.

After the government installed dams across the basin in the last century, hatcheries were put in to replace the wild fish the dams killed off.

The idea was that hatchery fish could come to replace wild fish. But, without natural selection, hatchery fish are regarded as inferior to the wild fish.

“We’re trying to recover (wild) fish while providing for all the other uses that people want,” said Rob Jones, chief of National Marine Fisheries Services’ salmon recovery division. “All of us would rather see a Columbia Basin that produced enough fish to where we didn’t need hatcheries. That’s not the reality right now.”

The National Marine Fisheries Services’ report will guide distribution of federal dollars to the Columbia River Basin’s hatcheries. The 178 hatchery programs operate at 80 hatcheries, more than one-third funded through the federal money.

The Bonneville Power Administration and other federal agencies help pay for the rest, and many hatchery programs are operated by tribes who have fished the basin for centuries.

The report draft is open to public comment until November. After that, the fisheries services will pick one of the four options or some combination of them.

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