Debate Rages Over Hatchery vs. Wild Salmon

ByABC News
January 3, 2001, 12:10 PM

P H I L O M A T H, Ore., April 3 -- Ron Yechout was elk hunting in the CoastRange a couple years ago when he came upon technicians at the FallCreek hatchery bashing coho salmon in the head with baseball batsand stripping their blood-red eggs into 5-gallon buckets.

Yechout got his video camera so incensed was he to learn thatthe Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was killing thousands ofhatchery fish and millions of their eggs so that about 100threatened wild Alsea River coho could spawn without competitionfrom their domesticated cousins.

Just as the Zapruder film fueled doubts over the assassinationof President John F. Kennedy, Yechouts home video is spawningresistance to government efforts to save salmon as he shows it toservice clubs and chambers of commerce.

The video has found a receptive audience among people stillsmarting over logging cutbacks to protect the northern spotted owl.It has also sparked a legislative effort to stop killing hatcheryfish and a challenge of the Endangered Species Act.

Hatcheries Since 1872

We can have a California condor raised in a laboratory andturn them loose and they are wild, said Yechout, the manager of abank in this small farming and logging town. Yet we have a higherstandard for fish. There is something wrong with that.

Hatcheries have been part of the Pacific salmon equation since1872, when the U.S. Fish Commission built the first one on theMcCloud River in Northern California. Since then more than 400 havebeen established from Alaska to California, turning out more than325 million juvenile fish a year.

The biggest problem with hatcheries is they make people thinkthey can have salmon without worrying about wiping out theirspawning habitat with dams, clearcut logging and overgrazing,biologist Jim Lichatowich argues in his book, Salmon WithoutRivers.

Bad Training for Real World

From the very beginning, hatcheries ignored the lifecycle thathad made wild salmon thrive for 10,000 years since the last IceAge. Eggs were routinely shipped as far away as New Zealand, withno regard for the local adaptations the fish had evolved for theirhome rivers. Gene pools were truncated by spawning a wholegeneration from the first few fish to come in.