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Feds, States and Tribes Plan Methow Massacre:  So Many "Endangered" Salmon, We Can Kill Off a Whole Breed.

It's getting time to breed the next year class of spring-run salmon, and the Government has decided to destroy the second-most-numerous tribe of salmon in the Methow Valley.  This is the same valley where there are supposedly such drastic salmon problems that the farmers must not be allowed to grow crops, and the citizens go bankrupt because they can no longer sell their land (except in deals brokered by environmentalists).

Washington State Senator Bob Morton recently obtained a meeting memorandum concerning the joint Federal, State and Tribal plans to deal with a large number of returning spring chinook salmon in the Methow Valley.  NMFS says these are the most endangered fish in the entire Columbia River basin, other than the Snake River sockeye salmon.  The Feds have listed one run of hatchery fish in the Valley, the State hatchery run, "Methow composite", as endangered.  The other, federal breed, Carson, is completely unprotected, and marked for extermination.  

In a Rube Goldberg-like exercise, the fish managers plan to collect 640 fish at Wells Dam, in the mainstem Columbia, and take them to Methow State Fish Hatchery.  Then they will capture 360 fish at Methow State Fish Hatchery and transfer them to Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.  The bottom line is that the federal government is abandoning its breed of fish and deciding the raise the State breed instead.  (This sheds a little light on who ought to be running hatcheries in the first place.) 

You can't tell the fish apart, except for by the markers people stuck in them:  coded wire tags that prove whether a fish was "Methow composite" or Carson lineage.  But the federal government has decreed, by "personal communication" (from whom, the memo does not disclose), that "Carson-lineage gametes that are identified as surplus must be destroyed".  And they expect every single Carson fish to be surplus.

The only real difference between the Carson and the "Methow composite" is that "they're not from around here".  They're non-native.  A lot of the most rabid anti-hatchery people driving the race purification program come from Oregon.  Maybe it's something in the water, the same thing that makes Oregonians buy license plates that say "Native Oregonian".  People can sign up for protecting the natives, even if it means killing off the newcomers.  (Especially if they're from California.) 

The hatchery people will tell you that the Carson stock are real mongrels, with mixed Columbia and Snake River genes.  What's wrong with that?  To argue that mixed race salmon are inferior is the same thing as arguing that mixed race humans are inferior.  Tiger Woods might differ, and so might a Carson salmon, if it could talk.  There's a whole lot more differences, starting with skin color, between the human races than there are between the Carson and "Methow composite" salmon races.  

Some of you may be demonstrating, or videotaping, or otherwise paying attention to the clubbing of these fish.  You may get the opportunity to question one of the hatchery workers.  (This, by the way, would be a great thing to videotape.  Send me the tapes and I'll post them on the Internet.)  

Here are some questions you might ask the hapless hatchery workers:

Why don't you just let the extra hatchery fish go upstream to spawn?

Hatchery propagandists will probably tell you that few of the hatchery fish you could release would spawn successfully.   I am aware of no data that proves this, and more importantly, so what?  So what if we seed the rivers with more fish, and most of the seeds don't sprout?  Some of them will, and that's better than nothing.

At least we have done the planting.  If they die without spawning successfully, we can let them die there, instead of taking taxes from the citizens to hire people to plant carcasses in the rivers.  ("Permits have been applied for" for this purpose, says the memo, demonstrating yet another round of money-sucking paper- pushing in the salmon bureaucracy.)

Is there competent evidence of "genetic inferiority" of Carson stock?  

Of course not.   It's not like we have some Darwinian IQ test for fish.  We certainly do not know enough to be sure that exterminating this salmon breed from the face of the earth is necessary, or even appropriate.  

 What have you measured about survival of the Carson stock in the Methow vs. survival of this "Methow composite" stock?  How many years of data do you have?

None that I know of, but I could be wrong.

The Carson population has increased in the last couple of years, hasn't it?   Has it increased on a percentage basis more than the Methow composite stock?  Could it be rebounding faster from poor ocean conditions?  

The whole point of protecting biodiversity is to cover your bases in the face of risk.  We don't really know the relative advantages and disadvantages of Carson stock.  Ironically, one of the patron saints of enviro-religion, Aldo Leopold, emphasized that "the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts".  Carson gamete spring chinook salmon are one of the parts, and a successful part at that.  Why throw it away?  What if the Carson stock just happens to be genetically engineered to run better in the Methow, given global warming (or God knows what)?  What if they have more "hybrid vigor"?  Oops, just another federal government screw-up.

If it's so important to use fish from the same place, how come you're going to move fish eggs between Winthrop NFH and Methow SFH?

They're going to share stock between these two hatcheries--they call it "surplus listed 'Methow composite' gametes".   

So it's ok to mix fish between two hatcheries many miles apart on the same tributary of the river, but we must exterminate anything mixed from two different tributaries of the same river?  

There may well be differences that crop up over time between salmon stocks in different places.  But the impact of these differences is minimal.  That's why salmon can move in and colonize new habitat easily.  As the Tribal saying goes, "from two salmon come a thousand".  

What are you going to do with the extra eggs of "Methow composite" this year?

They're going to "scatter plant some of the extra fry in underseeded areas" and "our goal is to utilize all gametes taken from the listed Methow stock". 

Didn't hatcheries abandon planting fry decades ago because the survival was poor?

Yes, they switched to releasing older, larger fish.  "Scatter planting" is like something they did in Biblical times, before they figured out you should plow to make the seeds grow better.  This is the kind of performance we have grown to expect from our governments. 

The hatchery propagandists will tell you that even though survival may be lower, but the fish that survive will be more "natural", because they will have been subjected to less human influence.  Of course, it's not as if raising a fish in a hatchery domesticates it in any meaningful way.  It's not like the bears in Yellowstone Park, or something.  The hatchery fish that don't learn to act like wild fish fast all die off quickly.  The few changes in fish that the hatcheries bred for, knowingly or unknowingly, they can easily undo.  

Why don't you plant the eggs in hatchboxes or spawning beds?  

They'll tell you too expensive.  Ask them for their budgets.  I bet we could find some things to cut.  Citizen involvement could help.  There used to be clubs all over the Pacific Northwest that ran hatchboxes, back when there were lots more fish.  What a coincidence.  I meet the old-timers who used to run them on the lecture circuit.  But the practice fell out of fashion.  And then the State refused to share eggs, and forbid anyone else from taking them.

(From J. Migel, The Stream Conservation Handbook 142 (Crown 1974).)

If we're not going to let surplus fish just swim around and spawn, maybe because they won't spread out much, why not give some of the extra eggs to the citizens?  The best thing is, salmon we grow that way aren't likely to swim back to the hatchery.  They'll be the most "natural" of all.  

They'll also tell you that the survival will be too low.  The devil is in the details of just where you put the box, and the bureaucrats in a state or federal office building hundreds of miles away don't have much to offer.  People on the spot are the only ones who are going to be able to tell if they put their eggs in the right place.  People who care can grow salmon if they have the eggs; here's an example.  Every community has old people who know something about that, and will remember where the good spawning beds were.  One old Indian in Eastern Washington even plowed up an old spawning bed to restore it, and it worked.  Any group of citizens who plants eggs for five years running and watches what happens will know more about salmon habitat requirements in their neck of the woods than bureaucrats in Olympia or Washington, D.C. ever will.

The only salmon recovery plan that people should believe in is one that grows fish, and has people on the ground doing that, not people passing paper back and forth in far-off cities.   Sometimes habitat is a problem, but not that often, not anymore.  When it is, people who plant eggs will squawk about it, and the people in the cities can listen to those people, instead of listening to their own theorizing.  Our leaders who are letting huge surpluses of Carson and other hatchery eggs go to waste have no understanding about how to solve the salmon recovery problem: grow more salmon.  Or maybe they lead us for reasons that have nothing to do with the salmon.

Anyway, if you're still talking to the hapless hatchery worker, when it gets down to the end of the interview, ask the ultimate question:

Q:    Are you really sure you're doing the right thing here.  Are you really personally convinced?

Last year, most of them weren't.  But they probably will be more careful this year, and toe the company line.  

Still, if enough of you go out there and make the hatchery workers uncomfortable enough, maybe things will start to change.  It's harder for a small elite to run things when their underlings feel bad about the whole thing.  They should.

James Buchal, May 17, 2000

Link:  The Other Side of the Story (ODFW Propaganda)

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have fish in the rivers.

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