Thursday, June 14, 2007

Captive-bred salmon don't count for conservation

Fish hatcheries produce low-grade fish that can not substitute for wild fish. So says a federal judge in overturning some fishy politics by the Bush Administration.

It's a long-standing struggle in the northwest, what to do about salmon? We love them, but we've dammed them, overfished them, and poisoned them into serious trouble. In response, we've created a new problem disguised as a solution: we raise salmon in fish farms and then let them go for fishermen to catch. It's a way to pretend we still have salmon.

It's the Great Salmon Charade.

The Bush Administration wanted to "save the salmon" with more of the same problems disguised as solutions. They wanted to increase fish counts by simply counting hatchery fish as though they were wild. Salmon recovery by sleight-of-hand. Science has shown that typical production hatcheries produce inferior fish that can do more harm than good. Like including feral dogs when we count wild wolves. Not good.

There are some modern attempts to use fish hatcheries carefully, in service of conservation goals. Such efforts have promise, but that's not what's on the table here. We're talking about the big, bad hatcheries that produce fish for human use.

Note that these hatchery-produced fish are called "wild" when they're on your plate, since a fisherman caught them during their post-hatchery walkabout (swimabout).

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