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Hatcheries: The High Price of Losing a Bet

by Jim Lichatowich
Fly Fishing Catalog 2001

Wilderness and biodiversity are specific to place, the result of ages of evolution and interaction that create unique plant and animal communities. Fish hatcheries, by introducing nonnative species, alter the biological makeup of these communities and manipulate ecosystems with unknown and often disastrous results. We have used hatcheries as a band-aid to try to bolster fish populations instead of doing the real work that needs to be done: restore stream habitat, remove obstructions to migration and establish sound fisheries management plans.

On a cold November night in 1841, two French fishermen crept to the bank of a river and silently watched Atlantic salmon creating a new generation. Watching the salmon spawn under the light of a full moon gave them an idea that has grown into a major fisheries management tool and has unfortunately led to the degradation of many rivers and their native salmon and trout populations. The fishermen, Messieurs Gehin and Remy, figured out a way to artificially fertilize, incubate and hatch salmon and trout eggs. Actually, they rediscovered a technique that had been around for a long time. But in their hands and with skillful public relations, the possibilities of hatcheries were exploited as never before.

About the Author
Jim is a fishery biologist. His recent book, Salmon Without Rivers, is a history of the Pacific salmon crisis. He lives in Sequim, Washington.