Wild vs. Hatchery? Nope. Hatchery And Wild!

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Wild vs. Hatchery? Nope. Hatchery And Wild!
Bill Herzog

By Bill Herzog

Fellow steelheaders…unless you have recently emerged from a decade long hibernation in some Siberian cave, a day-long jet ride from a wi-fi hotspot, you know the controversy. The endless in-your-face opinionated Facebook posts and comments. Magazine articles. The passion from both sides. If you are fortunate to have a wide and diverse amount of fishing friends and acquaintances, you are exposed to enthusiastic arguments from every side of the wild versus hatchery steelhead debate.

The thunder of opinion and the shaking pointed fingers ricochet from all directions. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Screw you. Oh yeah? More hatchery fish, less hatchery fish. Science. All wild all hatchery. Less plants. Gear versus fly. Blobs. Advocates for forestry, tribes and dams. More broodstock. No bait. Love bait. No broodstock. Cormorants. Development. Poaching. Gillnets. Seals. Sea lions. More plants harmful, not harmful. Damned purists. Planted fish bad. Yo mamma is so ugly … (record scratch)STOP! 

Take a breath. As David Byrne said, “Well … how did we get here?” And where do we go from here? Who, what group, large or small has a direction? I found several, one in particular that really grabbed the rock and ran with it.

Those that only accept steelhead in their purest form, wild borne to gravel and only encounter humans when being released after tussle, you are right. Those who get total satisfaction from taking a choice fin-clipped fish home, knowing their license dollar went to a fish that supports so many in the industry, you are right. And both wrong as well. Both pro hatchery and pro wild go verbally armed with good and bad science arguments, each assertion seems to have an equally valid counterpoint backed by research. 

For many years, I have watched from the shadows, taken mental notes, listened. Not wanting to take sides, dare I upset a sponsor, vendor, group, editor or friend. Take one side and lose the other. Afraid it may cost a future trip, a paycheck, a prized contact. We steelheaders are too small a fishing family to alienate anyone. Well, now I have a reason to step into the light. A movement I can get behind without fear of anything coming back sour. A movement all, no matter your outlook, can follow. Hello Hatchery And Wild.

There is no one out there who lives for times on our diverse western rivers that does not have an opinion, one way or the other. There are the purists who will only try for the true wild ones and think that hatchery fish are blasphemy and worship at the altar of the purest genetics. They will gladly give up their right to fish over distressed runs to help them recover. There are those anglers that cannot imagine not having hatchery steelhead and want nothing more than to have more than a few destination choices every winter and summer. They want to take a bright, fat-filled salmonid home for table. They are both right. I will say, from this anglers’ decades of observation, drinking more than my share from the fountain of both hatchery and wild … there is room for both. I like to think that the great majority of us want just that. And like Spock said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Two of my fondest steelheading memory banks come from both hatchery and wild fish. They play in a constant memory loop, first from the peerless Skeena system. Thirty years of autumn Nirvana. All wild steelhead, the largest trophies and healthiest run on the West Coast. Second from the hatchery summer runs from the Bogachiel/Calawah on the Washington coast. The chromest, hottest, aggressive (and wonderful eating) summer steelhead you could want. Twenty five summers, June through August. A thousand shades of green coastal forest. Take away either one of these decades of experiences, my fishing life loses much. There are so many other examples over millennia and geography I could draw but the idea is there. Both wild and hatchery fish define who I am and why I get out of bed at 3 a.m., I’m betting the same for many of you as well.

Here is a prime example of what works. For the last twenty trips around the sun, I’ve enjoyed the best of both worlds — the eastern summer steelhead of the upper Columbia and Snake. Rivers full of hatchery andwild steelhead. Next cast could be either. Release wild, take hatchery. That’s getting your cake and eating it too. The type of world we must live in if we are to continue with this thing of ours.

Get involved with groups that want both. If not join, then follow their thoughts and policies. Look up the Coastal Conservation Association. Check out Wild Steelheaders United. Pay even closer attention to a new movement, Hatchery And Wild ((www.hatchery-wild-coexist.com). Science driven. Common sense. Practical. Go to their website. Now. Read their mission statement. Read the FA’s. This is the exact type of movement we need, the style of thinking that can keep us casting and not golfing. Knowing what you want is the first step in a movement. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Why should you get involved? You work hard all week, and you just want to relax and fish the short time you wedge into your very busy schedule. One voice, one action, so what? It’s like farting on a garbage barge, no one notices. Remember the fishing world, especially we that live and breathe steelhead and salmon, is a tight circle and our numbers in the grand scheme are minimal. One voice, one action does make a difference in a small room. 

I’m looking at the young folks, men and women who still have multiple decades of involvement left, the ones that have basically just started this long strange outdoor trip. Tell the people that make the rules you want both. We old farts may do what we can, but the energy, drive, innovation and the future is on you. Tell the people who make the rules that you want augmentation to keep rivers open that would not be without hatchery returns. You want to visit the sublime rivers that are strongholds for wild fish where we have connections to a storied past and gifts for the future.

We must believe in science, facts, listen with near blind faith, to those blessed folks who spend their days streamside working hard, studying our rivers while we sit in our 40 hour workweek cubicles dreaming of watching floats going down this coming weekend. Have opinions. Our fishing world would be Snoozeville without them. 

There is no progress without passion. Some anglers are not going to change their minds, but maybe if the crowd noise is loud enough, they may circle the mosh pit and groove to the beat. Hatchery And Wild has the markings of a far too simple solution. Stop sitting on the fence. Let’s go with it, take it for a test spin. I’m in for simple. 

Bottom line: I believe we need to fish. No surrender. Hatchery. Wild. I believe in both.

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