Overloading Alaskan waters with hatchery-reared salmon may cause irreversible damage to wild stocks
Jan Konigsberg , Director, Alaska Salmonid Biodiversity Program , Trout Unlimited 907/248-0693
Director, Alaska Salmonid Biodiversity Program
10/30/2001 -- Anchorage, Alaska --
A report released today by Trout Unlimited raises serious concerns that Alaska’s large-scale, salmon hatchery program may jeopardize the health and future of wild salmon stocks in Alaskan waters and beyond. The report, "Evaluating Alaska’s Ocean-Ranching Salmon Hatcheries: Biologic and Management Issues," is available online at http://www.tu.org/newsstand/library_downloads.html and was authored by the University of Alaska’s Environment and Natural Resource Institute (ENRI), and commissioned by the Alaska Salmonid Biodiversity Program of Trout Unlimited (TU).
The ENRI report concludes that Alaska’s ocean-ranching salmon hatcheries have been allowed to operate largely unchecked despite mounting scientific evidence and concerns about potential harm to wild salmon stocks-concerns that have dogged the hatchery program since its inception. The report reveals an appalling lack of data to substantiate the claims of hatchery proponents that hatchery fish pose no risk to wild salmon. To the contrary, available data suggests that Alaska’s large-scale ocean-ranching program does indeed harm wild fish, notably the pink salmon of western Prince William Sound.
"The key message of this report is that Alaska’s salmon-ranching program lacks biological justification," states Jan Konigsberg, Director of TU’s Alaska office. "TU enthusiastically supports policies, programs, and actions that protect our wild salmon. Unfortunately, available evidence suggests that Alaska’s industrial-scale salmon ranching is not in line with Alaska’s wild stock priority statute nor its Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy."
The ENRI report analyzes key concerns about the effects of hatchery production on wild salmon biodiversity-the genetic, biological, ecological, and behavioral characteristics enabling salmon to survive and thrive. These concerns include fish culture practices; competition between hatchery and wild fish for food and space; genetic effects from interbreeding of hatchery and wild fish; and managing harvests in fisheries where hatchery and wild salmon are mixed.
"The state of Alaska has essentially been running these hatcheries in the dark in terms of understanding their impacts on wild salmon," said Konigsberg. "But lack of data confirming harmful impacts on wild salmon is not an acceptable rationale for continuing to flood the ocean with large-scale hatchery-releases."
Virtually all populations of North America’s Atlantic salmon are threatened with extinction, and Pacific salmon have been lost from nearly half of their original range on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, salmon abundance is about 10 percent of what it was at the turn of the last century–devastated by dams, habitat alteration, intense fishing, and misuse of hatcheries.
"Because Alaska is the greatest remaining reservoir of salmon genetic diversity, the state has a special obligation to protect its wild salmon populations," urged Ben Greene, PhD, TU-Alaska Associate Director.
The ENRI report takes to task assumptions and management practices that have been used to justify Alaska’s industrial-scale hatchery program as "supplementing" the annual variability of wild salmon abundance, thereby "enhancing" the value of the statewide salmon harvest, such as:
Based on the ENRI report, TU has several recommendations (see below) to reform the Alaskan salmon ranching program to protect wild populations, including shutting down Prince William Sound pink salmon hatcheries and establishing wild salmon stock "genetic preserves"–repositories of genetic information that will conserve adaptive traits in Alaskan salmon that cannot be duplicated in hatcheries. Additionally, TU recommends that the practice of marketing all Alaskan salmon as naturally "wild" by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute be halted, and that such marketing acknowledges that hatchery fish comprise up to 80 percent of the catch in some fisheries. TU calls for salmon to be held to the same "truth-in-advertising" standard as other food products.
Konigsberg says that "on the basis of the ENRI paper, Trout Unlimited believes Alaska’s hatchery program has been the catalyst in an unfortunate biology experiment in which hatchery-created salmon in the free-range, ocean pasture pose a greater threat to Alaska’s wild salmon than do escaped Atlantic salmon from salmon farms to the south. Alaska’s reputation for sustainable salmon fisheries management would seem to demand that it reform its aquaculture programs, at the same time insisting that British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, Japan, Russia, and Korea do likewise."
Trout Unlimited Recommendations for Reforming Alaska’s Ocean-Ranching Hatchery Program
The above recommendations are consistent with Trout Unlimited’s North American Salmonid Policy.