Key interlocking issues surrounding salmon in the 21st century

Dr. David Landkamer, Ed.D  Sept. 5, 2013

I am pleased to support Salmon for Oregon’s efforts to address the two key interlocking issues surrounding salmon in the 21st century; How do we continue our long standing traditions of harvesting and enjoying salmon while protecting their natural spawning populations? I believe that your strategy to create terminal fisheries for spring Chinook through the acclimation of hatchery smolts in lower bays along the Oregon coast is a worthy and timely approach to these issues, one that is well grounded in the best and most current available scientific information.

As you are aware, salmon have a complex life cycle that involves multiple environments from river tributaries to the open oceans, such that humans interact with the salmon life cycle in multiple ways. These complex interactions and our related actions are often simplified to the four H’s of salmon management; Harvest, Habitat, Hydropower, and Hatcheries. In the past, human actions related to each of these H’s has led to declines in natural spawning salmon populations.

However, over the last several decades, research and experience have led to continuing improvements in all of these salmon management H’s. For example, we continue to improve our ability to adjust harvest levels to protect salmon stocks that are being over-harvested. We continue to protect and improve salmon habitats to increase natural spawning success and salmon survival. We continue to improve fish passage around dams and other obstacles to salmon migration. And we continue to improve hatchery methods in order to enhance harvestable populations of salmon while protecting natural populations. Wise management of each of the H’s leads to benefits for both salmon (higher survival and population health) and people (healthy foods, jobs, recreation, power, resilient ecosystems, etc.).

In recent years, salmon hatcheries and hatchery fish have been targeted as harming natural spawning salmon populations, but this over-generalization is a far too sweeping condemnation. On the contrary, hatcheries have enhanced and protected numerous populations of salmon, as well as provided the majority of commercially and recreationally landed fish. Currently 70-80% of the salmon that are “wild caught” in Oregon are of hatchery origin. The substantial contributions of hatcheries will need to continue if we are to maintain our traditional fisheries, fishing communities, and consumption of local salmon.

At the same time, science and management are making great strides toward improving the use of hatchery fish in ways that protect wild spawning populations. A recent research study titled Hatcheries, Conservation, and Sustainable Fisheries – Achieving Multiple Goals, by the Columbia River Basin Hatchery Scientific Review Group concluded, “The major question was whether hatcheries can contribute to harvest and at the same time be compatible with conservation. Clearly, the answer to this question is “yes”…” In keeping with this research direction, the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 2013 has passed House Bill 3441, directing the Oregon Hatchery Research Center on the Alsea River to conduct research to study best methods for using hatchery fish to enhance fisheries and protect natural spawning populations.

I believe that the Salmon for Oregon approach to fishery enhancement and natural population protection through community-based volunteer projects is consistent with scientific, state, and ODFW objectives, and has the potential to accomplish several broad goals:

Increase the release size and subsequent survival of hatchery fish, resulting in lower             predation on smolts, better ocean survival, and greater return rates to recreational and commercial fisheries.

Greatly reduce competition between naturally spawned and hatchery released fish in the   river and estuary nursery habitats.

Eliminate or greatly reduce the number of returning adult hatchery fish mixing with natural spawned adults on upstream spawning grounds.

Enhance/create new spring Chinook fisheries at a time of year when no salmon fisheries currently exist.

Expand local community economic activity through increased fishing days and related purchases.

Contribute to the scientific salmon research and management discussion.

Further engage local communities in natural resources management practices.

Enhance salmon conservation community outreach and education opportunities

Therefore, I wish you success in your endeavors to improve salmon use, enjoyment, and protection, and look forward to working with you to foster scientific and community understanding of the complex issues of coexisting with salmon in Oregon.

Sincerely,

Dr. David J. Landkamer Ed.D
Sea Grant Aquaculture Extension Specialist
Oregon State University