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Take Action: Doubling down on the broken promise of fish hatcheries

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Kurt Beardslee   |   Dec 12, 2016

 

“What we need is to double down on a conservation-minded approach rooted in science and grounded by nature. And we need to double down on our resolve to fight tooth and nail for these magnificent fish before it’s too late.”

You have to hand it to them. It was a wildly creative and successful bait and switch—perhaps the biggest con ever played on the once wild west. The terms were simple. The public would okay the construction of fish-killing dams and other habitat destroying activities. In exchange, the government would use taxpayer money to produce millions of hatchery salmon and steelhead to satisfy the angling and dining appetite of Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.

By National Institute of Standards and Technology (Salmon) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By National Institute of Standards and Technology

For more than a century, the government has made good on its promise and has delivered hatchery fish by the tens of millions. In return, the good folks of the west granted the government the ability to dam, tame, damage and kill its mightiest waters and wild fish.

But there was a catch. Little did the public know that they were sold a bill of goods. It turns out that hatchery fish do not replace lost fish, they further their decline. So in a cruel irony, the government’s solution to wild fish loss has been a century-long ecological and genetic war on wild salmon and steelhead. To this day, a patchwork of 330 government-operated hatcheries continue to damage a shrinking network of wild salmon and steelhead populations, most of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The combination of hatcheries, dams, habitat destruction and the harvest these manufactured fish facilitate has proven to be a lethal cocktail for wild salmon and steelhead.

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