Posted on

Costly Columbia River Hatchery Program—Results Disappointing

by Bob Garbarino

In the May newsletter this year I wrote about a study that found introducing hatchery fish into streams with wild fish populations actually destabilized and reduced the wild fish population. This month I came across another article about how costly efforts to support and increase native salmon populations in the Columbia River has failed. This conclusion was based on a report published by an economics professor at Oregon State University and a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington. They analyzed data collected over 50 years with counts of native and hatchery salmon and steelhead return runs at Bonneville Dam. The data indicated hatchery fish numbers had increased slightly, while wild salmon and steelhead populations had not. In fact, the introduction of hatchery fish have in some cases been found to have a harmful effect on the wild population. They also reported that over the last four decades, about $9 billion have been spent by federal and state agencies to run and maintain about 200 salmon hatchery programs in the Columbia River Basin.
While overfishing and the construction of 14 dams are the primary contributors to the declining numbers, others are farming pollution and diversion of water for irrigation, climate change, as well as habitat loss from logging and mining. An average of 1.5 million salmon and steelhead have run up the Columbia over the last decade—far short of the goal of 5 million by 2025. State of Oregon officials are moving forward with a third-party investigation of the hatchery operations, including the cost vs benefits. The Conservation Angler, an organization that focuses on protection of wild Pacific anadromous fish populations throughout the Northwest, is active in reforming hatchery practices including those on the Columbia/Snake River basin. This is another example of an angling group getting involved in conservation.
For more information about this subject got to: