Current Priorities & Initiatives
- Hatchery Reform: minimizing impacts of hatchery fish on wild fish populations;
- Harvest Reform: managing harvest to achieve wild spawner abundance and productivity;
- Management Reform: ensuring accountability for recovery of wild, native fish populations;
- Habitat Protection: supporting habitat protection through stewardship;
The combined effect of hatcheries, harvest and habitat degradation has brought previously healthy runs of salmon and steelhead perilously near to extinction. For their part, hatcheries have become the cash cow for fish and wildlife agencies and have become the politically acceptable way to supply salmon for harvest while degrading watersheds. Hatcheries have become the latest in a long line of threats (think, poor logging practices, dams) to native fish.
Hatcheries are funded mainly with federal (that is, taxpayer’s) dollars and by private utilities (taxpaying rate payers) mitigating hydro dam construction. Without this funding there would be very few hatchery programs.
Perhaps that isn’t such a bad idea when one considers the growing and overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science which inarguably now concludes hatcheries are deleterious to and contribute to the decline of wild, native salmonids. Much of this research is compiled on our website for use by the public.
Hatcheries have been politically safe and funding assured. Today, however, the realization that hatcheries do not solve problems faced by ESA-listed salmonids is beginning to seep into the public’s consciousness and it is quickly ending as an easy political default. When it costs thousands of dollars to produce a single adult salmon for harvest, even politicians are noticing.
Salmon and steelhead are the only ESA-listed animals that are allowed to be taken for commercial and recreational purposes. The National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for protection of listed salmon, but in 2005 this agency gave its permission to increase the kill of threatened winter steelhead in the lower Columbia River.
Also, when they were listed as a threatened species, the state of Oregon adopted a directed fishery on coho salmon in two Oregon coast lakes. This is the first time an ESA-listed animal has been hunted before it was fully recovered and removed from the ESA protections.
Based on a simple industrial model, fish agencies release hatchery salmon to be harvested. Even if the habitat were in good shape to support healthy wild salmonids, the actions of these agencies undermine that with their hatchery and harvest programs. Reforming fish agencies so that they include in their mission the protection of native, wild fish is to reverse over 150 years of investment and commitment to hatcheries to solely satisfy harvest and consumption.
Harvest must also support the reproductive capacity of wild salmon runs in every river. This means the abundance, distribution, nutrient requirements, genetic diversity, and life history attributes of each population has to be determined and maintained.
When wild populations are co-mingled with hatchery fish the wild fish are over-harvested. When this occurs, the agency’s answer is to simply release more hatchery fish. Obviously, this policy spirals inevitably towards failure.
The Native Fish Society provides a grassroots watchdog presence with agencies that have authority over the life cycle of native fish. These state and federal fish and wildlife agencies include Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the Bonneville Power Administration and the NW Power and Conservation Council.
We focus on these agencies because collectively they set fish recovery policies, hatchery construction and operations, monitor and evaluate fish projects, and supply hundreds of millions of dollars into these projects.
We focus on these agencies to make sure that policies are adopted, as well as implemented, to protect native fish.
Oregon’s native wild salmonids have been verifiably ignored by fish management agencies which are not structured to maintain biological diversity. It was not until the Native Fish Society played a leading role in securing salmon and steelhead protections under the Endangered Species Act that state and federal agencies began to shift programs in favor of native fish. Such change is little, slow and begrudged.
As evidence, recall above that in 2005 Oregon and Washington, with the compliance of NMFS, tried to increase the kill of ESA-threatened winter steelhead solely to provide more harvest for the commercial fishery on the lower Columbia River. Again, it was NFS that presented vital testimony that convinced the commissions to reject this proposal. We provided information that showed that the wild winter steelhead population was clearly not viable.
To improve chances for success, we frequently team with other respected conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Washington Trout, McKenzie Fly Fishers, Federation of Fly Fishers, and Northwest Steelheaders. This group, called the Fish Cons, meets once a month to coordinate efforts. Through Fish Cons, each group increases its capacity to be successful in achieving its own goals, as well those of the group.