Guest Opinion: Why fish hatcheries remain essential

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Until Northwest rivers and streams once again run cold, clear and unobstructed, we'll continue to need hatcheries.

Daniel Jack Chasan’s recent attack on salmon and steelhead hatcheries failed to provide a view of their importance to the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington.

Our treaty rights depend on salmon and steelhead being available for harvest. Hatcheries are essential to fulfilling the harvest rights that the tribes reserved in treaties with the United States government.

Without hatcheries there would be no salmon or steelhead fishing at all by anyone in western Washington. Most wild stocks are not healthy enough to support sustainable harvest.

Ongoing loss and damage of habitat — more than any other factor — is driving the decline of wild salmon and steelhead across western Washington. We are losing the battle for recovery because we are losing habitat faster than we can fix it.

Hatcheries will be necessary for as long as lost and damaged habitat prevents salmon recovery. Today more than half of the chinook and coho harvested by Indian and non-Indian fishermen come from hatcheries.

Because every watershed and its salmon are unique, tribes believe hatcheries should evolve over time depending on the health of our watersheds. Those with lost or badly damaged habitat will likely need long-term or even permanent hatchery production to provide salmon for harvest and stock restoration. For those where habitat can be restored, hatchery production may be reduced and eliminated over time as the habitat is able to support abundant, naturally spawning runs.

Whether hatchery or wild, salmon need plenty of clean, cold water, access to and from the ocean and good in-stream and near-shore marine habitat where they can feed, rest and grow. It is the amount and quality of salmon habitat — more than any other factor — that determines the health of the salmon resource.

Hatcheries are the result of choices made in the past and choices that are still being made today about how we treat our environment. We think hatcheries work best when they work hand-in-hand with good harvest management and efforts to protect and restore good salmon and steelhead habitat.