by Carmen Macdonald
The growth of online forums has been incredible. Nowhere previously has there been such an amazing exchange of information and opinion available literally at ones fingertips. In my ongoing quest to understand the history of development and the pressures, or all out destruction, of wild salmon and steelhead runs, I came across this video of Jim Lichatowich.
Lichatowich was a past head of ODFW's science division. He's better known as the author of the book Salmon Without Rivers
. The video frankly left me puzzled. In speaking to a group of habitat scientists, with an amazing amount of work ahead of them if salmon are ever to be restored to their former glory, Lichatowich focuses his time on the subject of hatcheries. I can agree with Lichatowich that hatcheries "facilitated the development and degradation of the rivers," but I'm completely lost as to how removing hatcheries restores lost habitat...at all...in any way whatsoever. We have examples all around us of hatchery-free rivers that are, sadly, unremarkable in every way.
After watching the video the other evening, I decided to write Lichatowich a letter, having searched for and found an email address for him online. Upon sending, the email came back, the address, relating to his book, has been closed.
So a note to a scientist becomes a blog piece to stir discussion. Perhaps someone on ifish knows Lichatowich. If so, please let me know.
Here's the video. For the letter to make sense, you have to watch it. http://vimeo.com/48178148#t=0s
Sorry for just the link...I seem to not be able to make the embed code work here.
Hello Mr. Lichatowich,
I keep myself fairly involved with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in regards to salmon and steelhead issues. Having moved to Oregon at 14 years of age and now raising a family here, fishing is what has connected me to this state.
I've recently watched a video of one of your presentations online. It was to a California habitat group, yet revolved squarely around hatcheries. In your presentation, I agree with you completely that hatcheries "facilitated the development and degradation of the rivers". I might disagree in the order of events. On the grand scale, hydro development and natural resource extraction made this region livable. Hatcheries fulfilled a role that maintained the connection of the fish to our "story". Rather than the enemy of wild fish, I see hatchery fish as the connector to today and one of the only reasons salmon are still part of our story.
But where the video troubled me is that you appeared to say that removal of hatcheries will somehow undo what has been done. That "removing the influence of the myth" somehow brings the fish back. I'm wondering how the removal of hatchery fish repairs temperatures, flows, rearing habitat, migration corridors and the ecosystem as a whole? While hatcheries made the destruction of habitat easier, or more easily justified, hatcheries were not the body of the destruction.
What I see in the broad community of Northwest citizens is a vast percentage that care not for salmon when faced with the hard and expensive decisions that will be necessary to restore what has been lost. I see a smaller group that maintains the fish within their story through rod and reel. These anglers are holding onto salmon by a thread, with a large part of their caring centering around the opportunities created of hatchery fish. It might not be the connection you desire for the people, but it's a connection. Cut the hatcheries and that group vanishes. The final group is tiny. It's the group that will carry salmon onward in their souls, fishing or not, though most of them began as anglers. To restore salmon, it will take an army of concerned individuals.
Instead of working towards "removing the influence of the myth," I see the HSRG and recent actions by NOAA fisheries and the Corps of Engineers as specifically working to erode the salmon's base of support. Rather than focusing on the habitat that is the driver of productivity and populations, placing the focal point on hatcheries feigns action and activity while delivering zero results. This process erodes the base of support for the fish, normalizes scarcity of these populations and serves as a diversion while more people populate this region, consume resources, and more of those that remember the story and history of salmon die.
My thoughts are driven by the reality of what is around us. I name rivers like the Nehalem, Miami, Tillamook, Neskowin, Smith (Umpqua system), Upper Clackamas, Molalla, Salmonberry, Rock Creek... and nobody cares. Unimpeded by hatchery fish on the spawning grounds (the Molalla maintains hatchery spring chinook, but steelhead had been eliminated) these rivers show no growth. They're all still subject to the injustices delivered upon the habitat and there is no action plan.
Instead of creating examples of what's possible on these rivers, I see those that speak against hatchery fish as simply walking away from opportunities immediately in front of them. The Native Fish Society's lawsuit on the Sandy River will not recover a single fish. It will, almost certainly, terminate the presence of the salmon in the story of many to whom the Sandy River's hatchery fish were the conduit for their connection.
To date, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife cannot provide a single example where the removal of hatchery steelhead has created an increase in the adult abundance of wild steelhead. I can provide clear examples where the removal of hatchery fish has eliminated businesses and the connection of people to both communities and the fish themselves.
I believe there is an alternate path.
My vision would be to demonstrate that thriving wild populations of salmon and steelhead are achievable. To choose individual rivers as the focal points for habitat groups exactly like that to which you spoke directly, and descend upon these rivers with clear intent and measurable goals. Meanwhile, alternate streams embrace the fish factory approach to serve as connecting points that invite the salmon into the story of the masses. In the absence of direct experience with these fish, it's extremely difficult to make them important to an individual.
Rather than eliminating the primary point of connection, I believe we should be embracing hatcheries and utilizing them with fervor as part of a strategy to continue the story of the salmon. Regardless of what has transpired in the past, at this point in history hatcheries are critical to the continuation of the story. Removing a hatchery, or even all the hatcheries in say the Willamette Valley, does absolutely nothing to restore function to the habitat.
I'd love to discuss it with you at some time.