By Pat Hoglund, SSJ Editor
I was born and raised Catholic and my wife and I have raised our two children in the Catholic faith. I bring this up to establish the fact that I know a little bit about guilt. My mother was pretty good at dishing out thick slices of it. As was my grandmother. When it comes to matters of the church I have tried to distance myself from feeling guilty about some things, and for the most part I’m pretty good at it. I try and approach most topics with a fresh set of eyes, which is to say I don’t always fall in line with what I’m told.
Yet for the longest time I had this nagging feeling of guilt hovering over me when it came to matters of wild fish. Supporting wild fish policies sounds like the right thing to do. Wild fish are bigger, stronger, purer, healthier and because they are wild, they are what’s right for our environment. All of that is true.
And then there are hatchery fish. Believe some of the wild fish dogma, and it’s easy to think that hatchery fish will be the demise of our fisheries. They are, we’re told, inferior fish. We’re also told that hatchery fish harm wild fish, which in light of recent studies we’re finding that not to be the case. If you were to only listen to those spewing out wild fish propaganda then you too would have this nagging feeling of guilt inside your stomach. Because at the end of the day, most everyone wants to do the right thing. But like everything, there are two sides of the story and if you only listen to one side, you’re as uneducated as the person who fails to listen to both.
The reality is that hatchery fish are every bit important to our fisheries as wild fish. And the two can co-exist. When you let yourself believe that it’s one or the other, you will have traveled down a one-way road where there’s no turning back. Because if we think that having only wild fish in our rivers is the answer, then you and I may as well start fishing for bass and crappie.
Our world is too complicated to not have hatchery fish. There are too many people on Earth (7.5 billion last count) to simply ignore the elephant in the room and hope that wild fish will recover on their own. I can’t think of a single case where when hatchery fish were removed from a river, and wild fish rebounded at a rate that is realistic for you and me to fish for them. I’ve read numerous studies and each one shows limited success. And not for lack of trying either. They all have failed because of one common denominator: Man.
Our needs as a society outweigh the needs of wild fish. It’s the stark truth that too many people don’t like to admit, but it’s true. As habitat continues to disappear, our carbon footprint takes a major toll, ocean conditions fluctuate as much as the stock market and commercial fishing continues to rape our oceans, we will be faced with Herculean hurdles to overcome. And as more people continue to move to places like the Pacific Northwest (15 million last count) our environment will bear the brunt of it. As it is now, we are faced with wild fish populations that are on life support. And that makes no mention of the scarcity of water. It will be a major commodity as more and more people live on this planet. It’s no wonder that wild fish have a hard time recovering. I don’t see any of that changing any time soon. So, in order for us to have better fisheries, the solution lies in hatcheries.
I am not advocating for an all-out dumping of hatchery fish in our rivers. We’ve tried that and it didn’t work (think ’70s, ’80s and ’90s). What we need more of is mindful hatchery programs where we continue to use broodstock to bolster our fish runs. The science is there, and where we’ve implemented hatchery broodstock programs, the success rate is excellent.
I truly believe those fighting for wild fish are fighting the good fight, but on so many levels it’s an unwinnable fight. At some point, we need to understand that being in favor of hatcheries doesn’t mean you’re against wild fish. It’s OK to have both. It’s really not that complicated. Because at the end of the day we all want the same thing: the opportunity to fish more and have a chance at catching a salmon or steelhead. And both hatcheries and wild fish policies working in concert together will give us just that.