NANFA-- salmon biologists call on Bush Admin. to protect wild salmon

Christopher Scharpf (
Tue, 04 May 2004 20:00:37 -0400

Policy Review in *Science* Calls for Bush Administration To Protect Wild

March 25, 2004

Authors of the Policy Forum in the March 26th issue of the international
journal *Science* call for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to
protect wild salmon stocks whose status under the Endangered Species Act
(ESA) is now in jeopardy as a result of legal and political pressures from
landowners and timber interests. A substantial fraction of the salmon
populations currently listed under the Endangered Species Act in the
Northwest are in immediate danger of being delisted - not because they are
recovering - but because their status and presence potentially blocks

A U.S. District Court decision puts into question the endangered status of
all wild Oregon coho salmon: saying that hatchery fish could be included
with endangered wild salmon, it thus opens the legal door to delisting the
wild populations. As a consequence, there are also petitions to delist 15
evolutionarily significant populations of wild salmon in Oregon, California,
Idaho and Washington. Meanwhile, NMFS has been drafting criteria for
including or excluding hatchery fish in a population, and has a March 31st
deadline for their review of eight such salmon populations. Including
hatchery fish with endangered wild salmon would create the legal possibility
of maintaining a stock solely through hatcheries.

However six of the world9s leading ecologists conclude that fish produced in
hatcheries cannot be counted on to save wild salmon. The
government-appointed team of academic scientists including Robert Paine of
the University of Washington, Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University, Simon
Levin of Princeton University, Russell Lande of the University of California
at San Diego, Frances James of Florida State University and William Murdoch
of the University of California-in-Santa Barbara were requested to serve as
an external review committee for the recovery efforts for Pacific salmon.
Their independent findings were presented to NMFS, but the group was told
that their conclusions regarding endangered salmon populations and hatchery
fish were inappropriate for their official reports because they went beyond
science into policy. The scientists decided to publish in *Science* to make
sure the policy implications reached a wide audience because of their
concern for the recovery of populations of wild salmon in California,
Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

World-renowned ecologist Robert Paine, a coauthor of the report and Chairman
of the panel, says, 3Pacific salmon are under threat of being eliminated to
make way for development. We should not open the legal door to maintaining
salmon only in hatcheries. The science is clear and unambiguous; as they are
currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild

3One hundred years of hatcheries have not brought back wild Atlantic salmon
to Maine. Once we lose the wild populations of salmon and the natural
habitats that support them, we will never get them back,2 says lead author
Ransom Myers, a distinguished fisheries biologist based-in-Dalhousie
University in Canada. 3The critical legal issue is what counts as a fish
when one is trying to conserve a population. In particular, salmon in
hatcheries undergo very rapid genetic and behavioral changes. After very few
generations, these hatchery fish find it difficult to survive in the wild.2

The 10 September 2001 District Court judgment, stayed until recently by an
appeal, ruled that NMFS9 policy of including hatchery fish with wild fish as
evolutionary population units, but excluding them for purposes of ESA
listing, was legally unworkable. Since hatchery fish are currently included
in many salmon and steelhead populations on the West Coast, the associated
wild salmon populations may lose their legal protection. The authors,
leaders in their fields of fisheries, ecology, and genetics, strongly
recommend that as NMFS deals with the legal fallout from these cases, they
stop including hatchery fish in population counts.

3The current political and legal wrangling is a side show to the real
issues. We know biologically that hatchery supplements are no substitute for
wild fish.2 Paine says. 3It9s time NMFS protected our national legacy, in a
legally-defensible manner. Foot-dragging, and the resultant delays, by
NMFS's policy makers are pushing these cultural icons of the Pacific
Northwest toward extinction.2

The legal challenges to NMFS9 policies have come primarily from developers
and logging companies in the Northwest, in efforts to cut the environmental
regulations protecting salmon watersheds. NMFS did not appeal the District
Court ruling, but agreed to review their policies and specifically report on
8 currently listed populations by March 31, 2004. The science for those
reviews has been virtually complete for almost a year, but NMFS9
policy-makers have delayed. NMFS is now petitioning to have the deadline
extended until June.

3The implication of politically-motivated inaction is inescapable,2 says
Paine. 3The fundamental challenge is for the NMFS policy group to change
their definition of what constitutes an evolutionarily significant unit
(ESU) by redefining it to exclude hatchery fish.2

Hatcheries are not habitat

The authors warn that without habitat protection, many salmon populations
will only exist in hatcheries, where their ability to persist in the wild is
rapidly lost. The advisory panel, constituted to advise on recovery of
endangered salmon stocks, believes strongly that the long-term goal should
be robust populations existing in healthy habitats.

Fish bred and fed in hatcheries are often larger than their wild cousins,
grow quickly, and compete with them during early life stages in freshwater
and estuaries. On release, hatchery fish can cannibalize their wild cousins
and consume the food resources necessary for growth of wild fish. Hatchery
fish have substantially lower ocean survival than wild fish, but those that
do survive often interbreed with wild fish and dilute the gene pool with
altered behavior related to finding food, avoiding predators and finding
their way home to spawn. It is possible that modern conservation hatcheries
may temporarily benefit the most severely depleted stocks, although this has
not been proven: but the net effect of hatcheries usually is to cause a
decline in wild salmon.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has also concluded, based on scientific
consensus from research on land-dwelling species, that reliance on
artificially-raised individuals is imprudent and cannot work in the long

Immediate action required

Myers states, 3I want my grandchildren to experience real wild salmon in
their natural habitat, not only in a hatchery or aquarium. It is our
responsibility, as citizens, to prevent the on-going disappearance of wild

Contact info for authors:

Ransom A. Myers
Killam Chair in Ocean Studies
Dept. of Biology
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3J5
Phone: 902-494-1755/902-492-1403
Fax: 902-494-3736

Robert T. Paine
Department of Biology
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Phone: 206-543-1649
/"Unless stated otherwise, comments made on this list do not necessarily
/ reflect the beliefs or goals of the North American Native Fishes
/ Association"
/ This is the discussion list of the North American Native Fishes Association
/ To subscribe, unsubscribe, or get help, send the word
/ subscribe, unsubscribe, or help in the body (not subject) of an email to
/ For a digest version, send the command to
/ instead.
/ For more information about NANFA, visit our web page,