Who doesn't love strong runs of wild, river-produced salmon and steelhead? On the flip-side, who doesn't love to have lots of opportunity for themselves, their friends and family to catch fish?
In our modern developing world, these two realities - "Hatchery and Wild" if you will, have a direct effect on the anglers, economies, and families that depend on hatchery and wild fish.
The realm of fish conservation, restoration, and propagation has many fierce proponents of the "more-fish formula", each with different plans.
Whether it's a pro-hatchery sports angler, a deeply "wild-only" proponent, or a disinterested bystander, everyone can agree, that a healthy run of quality fish stocks is something to be celebrated. Right?
Healthy run. Healthy fish. Healthy fishing.
So what does that mean? To some, it could just be the opportunity to catch salmon and steelhead on a somewhat regular basis, to others it may be seeing high spawning abundance, and really - we'd all love both wouldn't we?
So to the "wild-only" approach, I've really not seen that to be a reality on the Pacific Coast of the United States while I've been alive.
There are numerous river systems that are completely robust wild steelhead rivers - but the historic decline of steelhead and salmon runs in Oregon, Washington & Northern California is massive.
So where wild fish reign supreme in abundance, I don't think a person I know is looking to put extra hatchery fish there. At the same time, for some of the ditches that once were excellent rivers, if there isn't an existing fishery or perhaps a majorly depressed one, hatchery plants can and have done good things for developing fishing opportunities, and in some cases, viable wild-reproducing stocks.
So yes, there really is room for "Hatchery and Wild".
At the same time, I am not advocating abject compromise; but I am advocating for common wins for fish.
We as anglers and advocates, have a common goal that is often clouded by the ideals we espouse and argue for - and rightly so; however, in the spirit of gaining headway towards a better tomorrow for fish, I would advocate joining together on wins for the fish - in areas that we can agree.
A Win for Fish is a Win for Everyone
There are hotly contested river agreements and programs, and then there are the clear wins for fish. Rivers where everyone can see an improvement in abundance of natural spawners. Rivers where hatchery programs provide an excellent opportunity for anglers, familes and local economies...and some rivers that do both.
Nobody wants to demolish a wild run in exchange for a hatchery stock, but there exist many situations where the benefit to the system and the fishery are recognizable, and the detriment to wilds stocks is negligible.
A Dam Problem
Is a river with a dam on it ever going to have all of the original run components it once had? In most cases, summer and spring chinook/steelhead are dramatically reduced, or often completely obliterated in dammed river situations.
The introduction of hatchery fish to those systems, when properly operated, can result in highly quality fisheries, with little to no negative effect on remaining runs.
In the case of a healthy wild stock fishery, with excellent habitat - no hatchery fish are necessary and shouldn't be introduced. Some hatchery stocks, like planted chum can have a positive impact on the nutrients and feed in a river system.
What about when you have limited habitat? It's time to discuss options to keep a healthy fishery occurring for the good of people and spreading out fishing pressure as a whole.
Everybody sees them - the "Hatchery Holes". They consistently put out fish - and it makes sense. One hidden benefit of hatchery rich rivers, it takes the focus off of the rivers that have only wild stocks. This can place the emphasis for anglers on keeping hatchery steelhead, and reduce angling pressure on wild stocks. I think in the right cases, those "Hatchery Holes" can be a blessing in disguise.
A Win for Fish
When we see a true opportunity for wild stocks to have a positive comeback, we need to examine it and embrace it, if the facts line up. There are some situations where a "Wild Fish" approach is highly beneficial to the study and genetic understanding of certain stocks.
The right managed hatchery fisheries, can be a massive help to local economies, anglers, guides & really - everyone.
Let's work together, but don't compromise everything. Just make big wins for fish.