Being Frank: Hatcheries Bridge Gap Between Habitat, Harvest




By  Lorraine Loomis, Chair, NWIFC


Despite their unbreakable connection, salmon harvest and habitat restoration continue moving down separate roads in western Washington. Many people either don’t see or choose to ignore the fact that habitat determines harvest, and that we continue to lose habitat faster than it can be restored.

Indian and non-Indian harvest has been cut to the bone this summer because of expected historically low returns, especially coho. Yet habitat loss and damage – the root of the problem – continues every day throughout our watersheds and nearshore marine waters.

Poor ocean survival conditions certainly played a role in the low salmon returns of the past several years. But even when we can restore or protect salmon habitat, we aren’t helping ourselves enough.

You might be surprised, but fish really do grow on trees. Trees keep water temperatures low, the way salmon like it. Their roots help to prevent soil erosion that can smother salmon eggs. When they fall into a river, trees provide diverse rearing habitat for fish. When the salmon spawn and die, their nutrients feed the trees.

Yet from 2006 to 2011 we lost the equivalent of two Seattle-sized forests or about 170 square miles, according to the treaty tribes’ 2016 State of Our Watersheds Report. The report can be viewed at

When we lose habitat, we also lose the natural production of salmon it provides. The collapse of our fisheries is simply mirroring the collapse of the eco-systems that support them.

For more than 100 years, hatcheries have tried to make up for that loss, but hatchery salmon depend on the same declining habitat as naturally spawning salmon.

About half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish. Continued habitat loss means we will have to depend on hatcheries for as long as lost and damaged habitat continues to restrict natural salmon production and threaten treaty rights.

Hatcheries are simply a tool. Some provide fish for harvest while reducing harvest pressures on weak stocks. Others serve as nurseries to protect threatened salmon stocks. All are essential to salmon recovery and should be integrated in our salmon recovery efforts for every watershed. We need every tool in the box to reinforce remaining salmon populations as we work to restore habitat.

The importance of this tool should be reflected in its funding, but as the need for hatchery fish has increased, state funding for hatcheries has declined or remained flat. Treaty tribes have stepped up to fill the gap in recent years and provide more salmon for everyone by picking up the costs at a number of state hatcheries where production was threatened by budget shortfalls.

The connection between harvest and habitat is clear. We cannot expect to harvest salmon – either hatchery or naturally spawning – as long as we continue to destroy salmon habitat. In the meantime, hatcheries must continue to help bridge that gap and be included as the essential part of salmon recovery that they are.





Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.


Habitat Must Carry More Weight

“Being Frank”

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


A heavy burden is easier to carry if everyone who shares in the load does their part to help support the weight.

It’s the same with salmon conservation.

We all value salmon and we all must share the burden to protect and restore this rapidly disappearing resource. We must spread the weight of the burden of conservation across harvest, hatcheries and habitat because these are the factors that most influence the health of the salmon resource.

While each is an equally important part of salmon management, harvest has historically shouldered most of the conservation load. Since the mid-1980s, harvest has been reduced by more than 80 percent to protect weak wild salmon stocks.

As the resource continues to decline, tribal and state fisheries are more regulated than ever before to sustain the resource, yet every day we are losing the fight for recovery. Salmon populations are declining because their habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored.

Meanwhile, the hatcheries that were built to make up for fish lost because of damaged habitat are under increasingly heavy attack. Opponents want them all closed. They claim hatcheries produce genetically inferior fish that sometimes stray onto spawning grounds and pass along their genes to wild fish.

But if wild fish continue to disappear because of lost habitat, and hatcheries can no longer produce salmon for harvest, there won’t be any fishing for anyone.

Our treaty-reserved rights include the right to have fish available for harvest. We did not give up nearly all of the land in western Washington so that we can put our nets in the water and pull them up empty time after time.

State government budget shortfalls and the effects of climate change are making things worse.

Because of the ongoing loss of habitat, we are becoming more and more dependent on hatcheries to provide salmon for harvest. Today more than half of the salmon harvested in western Washington are hatchery fish.

Tribes are increasingly concerned about the ongoing reduction in funding for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In just the past six years alone, the department has cut more than $50 million from its budget, much of it from hatchery production. We don’t yet know how much funding the agency will receive for the next couple of years, but further cuts could lead to closure of some hatcheries and reduced production at others.

Tribes already are picking up the check more and more to keep salmon coming back for everyone who lives here. From taking over some state hatchery operations to buying fish food and donating cash and labor, tribes are working to keep up hatchery production. This is in addition to the 40 million salmon and steelhead that tribal hatcheries release annually.

Meanwhile, the added effects of climate change are causing more harm to salmon throughout their entire life cycle. A record low snowpack, low stream flows and increasing water temperatures, combined with the results of ongoing habitat loss and declining marine survival, are forcing tribal and state co-managers to implement some of the most restrictive fishing seasons ever seen.

Salmon are in a spiral to extinction today, along with our treaty-protected fishing rights. Something has to change. That “something” is the share of the conservation burden carried by habitat. Right now, the treaty tribes are doing most of the work to protect and restore salmon habitat.

The tribes and state operate safe, responsible hatchery programs that are guided by the best available science. We will need these hatcheries for as long as habitat continues to limit natural production from our watersheds.

If eliminating harvest was the solution to salmon recovery, we would have accomplished it a long time ago.  That is because habitat – more than any other factor – determines the health of the salmon resource.

We have lost more fish to disappearing habitat than have been or ever will be harvested. If we want more fish, we have to protect the habitat that both hatchery and wild salmon depend on.

We may not be able to do much to control climate change, but we can do a lot more to stop the loss and damage of salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Let’s start by enforcing laws already on the books to protect salmon habitat and stop the bleeding in our watersheds.

The burden of conservation must be better shared by habitat if we are going to recover salmon. Harvest and hatcheries have been carrying most of the weight for far too long.




NOAA plan will speed up review of hatcheries

By Kimberly Cauvel, Skagit Valley Herald


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has withdrawn its draft environmental impact statement on Puget Sound salmon and steelhead hatcheries.

The draft was in preparation of a full review of all 133 hatchery genetic management plans into one EIS.

Reviews will now proceed on a smaller scale with individual or watershed-level plans, according to NOAA’s March 26 announcement.

NOAA West Coast Region fisheries manager Rob Jones said the withdrawal will allow the federal agency to move through the review process more quickly.

“We can move ahead right now with review and approvals as the plans come in the door,” he said. “What we’re going to do is take advantage of all the work that was done — to get to a draft EIS — and then we’re going to put that to use as we receive updated plans from the state and tribes.”

The review is needed to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead and chinook salmon are listed as threatened under the act, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the impacts of the hatchery genetic management plans through an environmental review. Part of the review process is deciding whether an EIS is necessary.

“We think this is a better and faster way to comply with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act,” Jones said. “We’re working on (updated plans) as they come in the door instead of waiting to do all 100 or so at the same time. That means decisions are going to start rolling out the door this spring.”

Three hatcheries operate in the Skagit River system — the Marblemount, Upper Skagit and Baker Lake. Six hatchery programs run out of those facilities contribute to chinook, coho, chum and sockeye runs.

Five of the six programs were submitted to NOAA for review a decade ago, but were held back while the federal agency waited to have all 133 plans in hand, Jones said. By the time NOAA was prepared to proceed, a lot had changed in the way hatcheries are managed.

The plans need to be updated to reflect the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead under the ESA, new scientific information and the closure of some facilities.

State and tribal representatives say NOAA’s review is important to ensure hatcheries are not at risk of litigation, as in the case of last year’s lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy, which resulted in a 12-year closure of the Skagit River’s winter steelhead program.

Area tribes support the federal agency’s decision to withdraw the draft study.

“NOAA fisheries determined, and tribes agree, that a watershed-specific approach would be a more effective approach to focus and assess the potential environmental effects of hatchery programs,” Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission spokeswoman Kari Neumeyer said in an email.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community fisheries manager Lorraine Loomis, who is chair of the commission, agrees.

“Many of these hatchery programs are critically important to maintaining treaty-protected fishing rights,” Loomis said in a prepared statement. “We are quickly approaching a crisis in the Pacific Northwest as salmon runs and their habitat continue to decline. It is important that NOAA is provided the resources to complete its statutory responsibilities under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) as quickly as possible.”

Though NOAA had already started its review of the state’s hatcheries, Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, introduced in the state Legislature this year Joint Memorial Bill 8007, which calls on the federal government to review Puget Sound hatchery genetic management plans to avoid lawsuits.

Pearson also sees the withdrawal as a step in the right direction.

“NOAA knows that the joint memorial (Bill 8007) is coming, and this is helping put pressure on them to get our hatcheries certified. I’m very pleased to see some movement on this front and I hope all of our hatcheries can get certified soon,” he said in an email.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound treaty tribes co-manage all but one of the region’s hatcheries. The only one not co-managed by the state and tribes is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hatcheries are a tool to help provide fish for harvest, but should be managed with consideration for threatened or endangered species, according to the fisheries service.

Budget Cuts Threaten Fish and Wildlife, Co-management

Being Frank

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission 

Years of declining funding combined with a current $2 billion state budget deficit leaves the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington wondering if the Department of Fish and Wildlife will be able to meet its natural resources management responsibilities.

The shortfall led Gov. Jay Inslee to instruct state agencies to submit budget reduction options equal to 15 percent of the money they receive from the state’s general fund. While there is hope that the governor might spare some or all of the nearly $11 million in budget cut options proposed by WDFW, the results would be devastating if they become a reality.

Hatchery closures and production cuts would mean the loss of more than 30 million salmon and steelhead annually. Fewer enforcement officers would be employed, leaving some areas with little or no coverage. Resource protection would be further decreased by reductions to the department’s Hydraulic Project Approval program that regulates construction in state waters.

In just the past six years, the department has cut more than $50 million from its budget, much of it from hatchery production. During that time tribes have picked up the tab to keep salmon coming home for everyone who lives here. Tribes are doing everything from taking over the operation of some state hatcheries to buying fish food and making donations of cash and labor to keep up production at other state facilities. That is in addition to the 40 million salmon and steelhead produced annually at tribal hatcheries.

Meanwhile, wild salmon populations continue to decline because of the ongoing loss of habitat that state government is unable to stop. The loss of wild salmon and their habitat has already severely restricted the tribes’ abilities to exercise our treaty-reserved fishing rights. Additional state budget cuts would only worsen the situation.

Budget problems do not excuse the state from its obligations to follow federal law and uphold commitments made by the United States in treaties with Indian tribes. Our treaties and the court decisions that upheld them are considered the “supreme law of the land” under the U.S. Constitution. As salmon co-manager with the tribes, the state of Washington does not have the option of turning its back and walking away.

Hatchery programs are especially important to fulfilling the treaty right that salmon must be available for tribes to harvest. Without hatcheries and the fish they provide, there would be no fishing at all by anyone in western Washington. We must have hatcheries for as long as natural salmon production continues to be limited by poor habitat.

Further cuts to WDFW’s budget would be another step backward in our efforts to save the salmon. Gov. Inslee should look someplace else for the funding that the state needs. He should not try to balance the state budget on the backs of the fish and wildlife resources and the people who depend on them.


Biologists Discover Landlocked Chinook Salmon In Oregon


By: Cassandra Profita, Oregon Public Broadcast


It took some snorkeling and biological detective work to prove it.

But now Jeremy Romer and Fred Monzyk can confidently say they’ve found the first documented examples of Oregon chinook salmon spawning without swimming to the ocean and back.

The two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists published their findings in an article this month in The North American Journal of Fisheries Management.

The discovery was the result of an investigation that started when they noticed something strange about the chinook salmon fishermen were catching in Green Peter Reservoir southeast of Corvallis: They looked wild.

In photographs printed in local newspapers and on the website, several of the chinook being caught in the reservoir clearly had their adipose fins – little fins on their backs that are clipped off in hatcheries to mark the difference between hatchery fish and wild.

But there’s no way for wild fish to get to the reservoir.

The reservoir was created by Green Peter Dam on the Santiam River, a tributary of the Willamette. And the dam doesn’t have a route allowing fish passage to the ocean.

Up until 2008, the state had released excess hatchery chinook above the reservoir. But those fish were essentially trapped. They were only released so fishermen could catch them. And according to their biology, they should only have lived to 2012.

“Several pictures were of chinook captured in 2013,” Romer said. “That’s where the math didn’t add up because the last releases happened in 2008, and fish in the Willamette rarely live to age 6.”

So, the fish being caught in the reservoir couldn’t be the hatchery fish the state released in 2008 – not only because they had adipose fins but also because those fish were supposed to be dead already.

“One of the biggest clues was that we kept seeing photos in local newspapers of happy anglers with salmon we knew we didn’t put in there,” Monzyk said.

So, if these fish weren’t the hatchery chinook released by ODFW, where did they come from?

“It was an ideal opportunity for us to investigate,” Romer said.

The biologists went snorkeling and saw nine adult chinook salmon with their adipose fins intact. They also recovered six carcasses of wild-looking chinook. They ran tests to see if chemistry inside the fish indicated that they’d been to the ocean. It didn’t. Nonetheless, they found four female fish that appeared to have successfully spawned in 2012.

Their conclusion: The hatchery chinook released above the dam didn’t go to the ocean, but some of them spawned anyway. And fishermen were catching their offspring in Green Peter Reservoir.

“It’s another example of the resilience of chinook in the Pacific Northwest,” Romer said. “It’s pretty amazing that even though they can’t fulfill their regular pathways or life history they’re able to adapt and still reproduce. Like Jurassic Park, they’ll find a way.”

You may have heard of kokanee – they’re landlocked sockeye salmon. Chinook don’t usually evolve to live without going to ocean and back, Romer said. It’s been known to happen in a few places, but this is the first time it’s been documented in Oregon. Romer and Monzyk say it likely won’t be the last. They suspect a similar situation has already unfolded in Detroit Lake, southeast of Salem.

2014 Fall Chinook Returns Could Be Biggest On Record

A chinook salmon photographed in the Snake River in 2013. That year's run set records, but 2014 returns are on track to outnumber last year's in the Columbia and Snake rivers. | credit: Aaron Kunz | rollover image for more
A chinook salmon photographed in the Snake River in 2013. That year’s run set records, but 2014 returns are on track to outnumber last year’s in the Columbia and Snake rivers. | credit: Aaron Kunz | rollover image for more

By Courtney Flatt, Northwest Public Radio

The future is looking bright for fall chinook salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Predictions are in that this could be another record-breaking year for the fish.

Officials are predicting the largest return on record since 1938. That’s 1.6 million Columbia River fall chinook. Nearly 1 million of those fish will come from salmon near Hanford Reach. These are known as upriver brights, said Stuart Ellis, fisheries biologist with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

“One interesting thing about the forecasts is that even though most of the forecasts are big, it is just the two large bright upriver stocks, the upriver brights and The pool upriver brights that we are predicting to be record high runs this year,” Ellis said.

Last year saw a record number of fall chinook salmon returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers since the dams were built. The upriver bright salmon are predicted to reach the same record as the entire returning fall chinook last year.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the advocacy group Save Our Wild Salmon, said the strong numbers are due in part to favorable ocean conditions, enough water spilling over dams during migration season and good habitat at Hanford Reach. That’s one of the longest free-flowing areas on the Columbia River.

Columbia River Indian tribes contend hatcheries also play a part in large Snake River fall chinook returns.

Sara Thompson, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said, right now, a record number of salmon are spawning in the Snake River.

“This is the highest number of salmon spawning in the Snake River Basin that we’ve seen since the Lower Granite Dam was constructed,” she said. The dam, one of four on the lower Snake River in southeast Washington, was completed in 1975.

Thompson said more wild fall chinook salmon are expected to return to the Snake River this year.

Bogaard said even though the fall chinook predictions are high, work still needs to be done to protect other endangered salmon runs.

“While the fall chinook run looks like that they’re as strong as they’ve been in quite a few years, we’ve still got a lot of work to do to protect and restore many other runs that provide the benefits to people and ecosystems in the parts of the basin,” Bogaard said.

Oregon Proposes Removing Hatchery Fish From Wild Fish Areas

A new plan for six species of salmon and trout in Oregon's coastal rivers would shift the balance of hatchery and wild fish. | credit: caddiseug/Flickr
A new plan for six species of salmon and trout in Oregon’s coastal rivers would shift the balance of hatchery and wild fish. | credit: caddiseug/Flickr

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

Hatchery-reared fish would get the heave ho from certain rivers along the Oregon Coast under the latest strategy to help Oregon’s wild salmon and steelhead.

The new management plan proposed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would designate several coastal rivers as “wild fish emphasis areas,” while increasing the number of hatchery fish planted in other coastal rivers to expand fishing opportunities in those waters.

The idea is to improve the way six species of wild salmon and steelhead are managed without shortchanging those people who count on hatcheries to produce enough fish for them to catch.

To find the right balance, the agency convened several stakeholder committees with members from sportfishing, commercial fishing and conservation groups. Stakeholders spent months debating which rivers should get more hatchery fish and which ones should get less.

ODFW’s Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan aims to conserve six species in 20 different river basins along the Oregon coast. None of the species are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and the state wants to make sure it stays that way.

The fish face threats from habitat loss, predators and overfishing. And also from their own hatchery-raised relatives. Studies show hatchery fish can compete with wild fish for habitat, and they can impact genetics through interbreeding. Several lawsuits are targeting hatcheries in the Northwest as scientists continue to document conservation risks to wild fish from hatchery releases.

Of course, hatcheries also serve an important role in coastal communities.

“They provide fish for people to catch,” ODFW program manager Tom Stahl says. “We’re trying to balance the hatchery program in terms of providing that fishing opportunity and also conserving wild fish populations.”

The state plan, which is currently in draft form and open to public comment, wouldn’t reduce the overall number of hatchery fish being released into coastal rivers. In fact, it would increase that number slightly from 6 million to 6.3 million per year. But it would reduce the number hatchery fish being released in some rivers such as the Kilchis, Siletz, and the Elk.

The plan has sparked outcry from both sportfishing and conservation groups. Some fishermen prefer to catch fish on rivers that would have fewer hatchery fish under the plan, and some conservation groups have put a lot of effort into improving wild fish runs on rivers that would get more hatchery fish.

After sitting on one of the committees, Alan Moore of the conservation group Trout Unlimited says it will be impossible to make everyone happy.

“The Kilchis River will be a wild fish emphasis area, and hatchery production will be moved to Nestucca River,” Moore says. “Trout Unlimited is planning a bunch of habitat conservation work on the Nestucca. We’re wondering: Should we be thinking about moving it to a different river where it stands a better chance of helping wild fish?”

Meanwhile, fishermen who rely hatcheries to ensure enough fish to catch are counting to make sure that the hatchery fish proposed to be removed from the Kilchis are actually going to be released somewhere else.

“Everybody’s counting fish,” Moore says.

The plan would also put more effort into preventing hatchery fish from interacting with wild fish overall, Stahl says, and it proposes a sliding scale for fishing seasons that would allow more fishing in years with higher predicted runs of fish.

“The plan really is trying to be proactive in increasing conservation as well as increasing fishing opportunity,” he says. “We’re threading that needle.”

ODFW is holding six meetings this month to collect public comments on the plan. The first meeting is from 6 to 9 pm Thursday at ODFW Headquarters, 4034 Fairview Industrial Drive SE, in Salem.

Other meetings will be held from 6 to 9 pm:

  • Jan. 21 at the TIllamook County Library Meeting Room, 1716 3rd St., in Tillamook;
  • Jan. 23 at the Best Western Plus Agate Beach Inn, 3019 N. Coast Highway, in Newport;
  • Jan. 27 at Douglas County Library Meeting Room, 1409 NE Diamond Lake Blvd., in Roseburg;
  • Jan 28 at North Bend Community Center, 2222 Broadway St., in North Bend; and
  • Jan. 29 at Reedsport Community Center, 451 Winchester Ave., in Reedsport.

EarthFix Conversation: A Call For Philosophical Shift On Use Of Hatcheries


In the late 1800s, when dams were first built around the Northwest, salmon and steelhead stocks began to decline. Fish hatcheries were put forth as a solution. Wild fish were taken from Northwest rivers and spawned in captivity, ensuring future generations of fish could be released back into the wild every season.

Jim Lichatowich is a biologist who’s worked on salmon issues as a researcher, manager and scientific advisor for more than 40 years. He sat down with EarthFix’s Ashley Ahearn to talk about his new book: “Salmon, People and Place: A Biologist’s Search For Salmon Recovery.”

Ashley Ahearn: For someone who doesn’t know what a hatchery is or doesn’t understand how it operates, what happens at a hatchery?

Jim Lichatowich: Fundamentally at a hatchery, salmon are taken out of the river, put into ponds until they’re ready to spawn and then the eggs are taken. They’re fertilized. Various different procedures are used at different hatcheries but that’s basically it. The eggs hatch, the juveniles are reared in the hatchery for varying levels of time and then they’re released back to the river and expected to migrate downstream fairly rapidly and go out to the ocean and from that point on pick up the normal life history of a regular wild salmon.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 8.19.08 AM

I guess the idea of how hatcheries started and [what] sustained them was, habitat was degrading and the fish weren’t doing as well in the degraded habitat. So the hatchery became a solution, a way of circumventing the problems we were creating ourselves by building dams, pumping out irrigation water, poor forestry practices that put silt and sawdust into the streams. The hatchery was supposed to take the salmon away from that problem, circumvent the problem.

Ashley Ahearn: Jim you talk about the ‘machine metaphor’ for nature. What is that? Can you read a section from your book here?

Jim Lichatowich: Sure I’ll read where I talk about the machine metaphor and the fish factory. And I might add here that I use ‘fish factory’ instead of hatchery through a large part of the book because that’s what hatcheries were originally called when they were first being used. They were called ‘pisce factories,’ or fish factories.

“The fish factory and the machine metaphor are a perfect match. The mechanistic worldview reduced salmon-sustaining ecosystems to an industrial process and rivers to simple conduits whose only function was to carry artificially-propagated salmon to the sea. The mechanistic worldview still has a powerful grip on salmon management and restoration programs in spite of a growing scientific understanding that the picture of ecosystems created by the machine metaphor was seriously flawed.”

And really, it’s been the factory metaphor that has guided a lot of the operation of hatcheries.

Ashley Ahearn: One of the things I really liked about your book is these side channel chapters that you sprinkle in between some pretty heavy critique of the way we manage our fisheries in this region. One of your side channels that I particularly liked was when you write about a trip to Indiana to the St. Joe River. Tell me about that side channel.

Jim Lichatowich: Well I grew up outside of South Bend, Indiana and the St. Joe River flows through South Bend. When I grew up there the St. Joe was pretty much a sewer that didn’t have much in the way of fish life. And over the years, particularly since I left — I left there in the 60s — there’d been a lot of clean up. And with the introduction of salmon into Lake Michigan — the St. Joe flows into Lake Michigan — they built a salmon hatchery and had a Chinook salmon run up the St. Joe River. They had to build a hatchery and clean the river up, too.

I was there and I was walking along the river and I came to where a tributary came into the St. Joe, and there was a salmon carcass — a Chinook salmon carcass laying up on the bank of the stream — and it just struck me how out of place it was. Seeing carcasses along rivers is pretty common here, but in Indiana that was a sight. And later on in watching the river, I saw salmon trying to spawn and I knew that their spawning was not going to be successful because the gravel was so silted in that the eggs weren’t going to get oxygen. I talked to a biologist a couple of days later and they confirmed that there’s very little or no actual reproduction, even though there are fish out there spawning.

I thought, you know, this really robs the salmon of their whole heroic story of battling up stream to get to the place where they spawned and where they could complete the cycle of parent to offspring. Even though it’s looked on by sportsmen in Northern Indiana as a positive thing, and there were a lot of people fishing for these fish that were in the river, I somehow had this nagging feeling that ‘should we be doing this to other species? Should we take them from where they belong and put them in a place where they have no chance of surviving without our intervention in a hatchery and call it salmon management?’

Ashley Ahearn: Is that what is happening here in the Northwest? I mean, we have salmon. The salmon have lived here for thousands of years — it’s not like Indiana, but arguably it’s a similar closed … are we robbing the salmon of their story here in the Northwest?

Jim Lichatowich: Well when we rely on hatcheries instead of healthy rivers, then we are robbing them of part of their story. Fortunately most of the rivers in the Northwest can support some wild production, some more than others.

But by relying more and more on hatcheries we’re creating a charade of sorts where the river that can’t support a salmon becomes a stage prop where fishermen and fish play out their respective roles, reenacting something, an important part of our past, that now is sort of a hollow empty memory of it.

Ashley Ahearn: Jim from your perspective are all hatcheries bad? Is there a good hatchery?

Jim Lichatowich: I think there might be, but the answer to that question hasn’t been answered. There has been attempts to reform hatcheries in the past and they haven’t been successfully implemented. There is a lot of good science now that should help managers change the way hatcheries are being operated to begin to see if they can begin to be integrated into a natural production system in a watershed. But it remains to be seen whether that will actually happen.

Ashley Ahearn: So if you were in charge, what needs to happen? What would be your order of operations to get salmon recovery back on track in this region?

Jim Lichatowich: Well I have two kind of strong ideas and those strong ideas were what I followed in writing this book. One was from John Livingston who said that all environmental problems, and I take that to mean salmon problems, are like icebergs, because, like an iceberg, environmental problems have a visible tip and for the salmon that tip is dams, over harvest, poor hatchery practice, poor logging practice –- the litany of things that we’re all aware of. But he says in addition there’s this huge hidden mass that an iceberg has. In that mass he calls it, he says in that mass there are the myths, beliefs and assumptions about how nature works that drive the decisions that either create the issues or prevent them from being corrected. And I think that’s a pretty powerful idea. We need to examine that body of myths, assumptions and beliefs. What I call in my book, our salmon story, and improve upon it. Make sure it reflects the latest science and not some really outdated myths or beliefs.

Ashley Ahearn: Or machine metaphors.

Jim Lichatowich: Or machine metaphors, right. And the other is Gary Nabhan’s idea. In one of his books he says that animals don’t go extinct because someone shoots the last one, or a bulldozer scrapes the last habitat. They go extinct because the web of relationships that sustain them unravels. He then put it in anthropomorphic terms and said, they go extinct because of a lack of ecological companionship. I think that idea is intuitive but at the same time very powerful. It should lead us to instead of defining the salmon’s problem in terms of numbers, which is really limiting your definition to the symptoms, it would be defined in terms of the unraveling of those relationships. And recovery, instead of boosting numbers by releasing more hatchery fish, would be a mending of those relationships. Trying to re-institute those relationships, and that’s a different approach than what we’ve been doing.

Ashley Ahearn: It seems your solutions center around a fundamental philosophical shift that needs to happen in the way we view management.

Jim Lichatowich: That’s right, and that is a good summary of my purpose in this book, is to make an argument for that shift.

Jim Lichatowich is the author of “Salmon, People and Place: A Biologist’s Search For Salmon Recovery.”