Hatcheries: Helpful or Harmful?

By Bianca T. Esposito, NWNL Research Intern
(Edited by Alison Jones, NWNL Director)

NWNL research intern Bianca T. Esposito is a senior at Syracuse University studying Biology and minoring in Economics. Her research focuses primarily on how watershed degradation affects biodiversity.

Salmon Fish Ladder.jpgFigure 1. Salmon utilizing a manmade fish ladder to bypass a dam in their quest for migration. (Creative Commons)

“Elders still tell stories about the tears tribal fishermen shed as they watched salmon throwing themselves against the newly constructed Grand Coulee Dam.”
-John Sorois, Coordinator of Upper Columbia United Tribes

What are the impacts of hatchery and why do we need them? Hatcheries were created in the late 1800’s to reduce the decline of fish populations caused by hydroelectric dam development. Hatcheries (Figure 2) are part of a fish farming system that produces artificial populations of anadromous fish for future release into the wild. Upon release, these fish enter a freshwater location, specifically a tributary, with no dam to bypass on their way to and from the ocean. Anadromous fish, such as salmon, white sturgeon and lamprey spend most of their life at sea, but return to their native tributaries in freshwater to spawn. Once anadromous fish spawn, they die off and the life cycle is continued to be carried out by the next generation of juveniles. Since returning to their native breeding grounds is a necessity for anadromous fish, hatchery-raised fish released into tributaries without dams is one way to combat this impediment of migration that dams have created.

In this blog, we will look at hatcheries as they relate to the declining salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin.

Besides hatcheries, another way for salmon to bypass the dams constructed along the Columbia River Basin is with the use of fish ladders or fish passages built on the dams (Figures 1 and 3). However, these methods can be harmful to the salmon. Fish ladders require that salmon climb up many platforms to access the reservoir on the other side of the dam. There is evidence that supports claims of an increased rate of exhaustion in salmon utilizing the ladder. Ultimately this leads to avoidance of the ladder and decreased migration rates of salmon.

Jones_070623_WA_1904.jpgFish ladder at Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River

Hatcheries are an attempt to overcome this low success rate of released salmon returning to tributaries. Stock transfers are one hatchery approach whereby salmon eggs are incubated and hatched in one part of the basin and then shipped to streams all over for release. This method of stock transfer is used to re-populate areas in which salmon populations are declining, or in places they no longer inhabit. However, because of the changes in location, these farmed salmon have trouble returning to the reassigned tributary, since  instinctively they would return to their birth stream.

Another major problem hatcheries face is that once artificially-grown salmon are released, they still have to face the same problems that confront wild salmon. These challenges include water pollution, degraded habitats, high water temperatures, predators and overfishing. However, the salmon who mature on the farm have no prior experience on how to handle these threats, which is one reason they face very low survival rates. Overall, these artificial salmon are not considered as “fit” for survival, nor do they have the ability to adapt to the environment in which they are released because they grew up on a farm.

USFWS Fish Transfer to Little White Salmon NFH (19239836984).jpgFigure 2. The raceways where salmon are kept at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington State. (Creative Commons)

In the 1980’s fisheries moved towards a more “ecosystem-management” approach. They began conserving wild, naturally spawning stocks, as well as hatchery-bred fish. Yet, the overbearing problem with this method was that if hatchery-bred fish were to mate with wild fish, it could cause genetic and ecological damage.

A shift has been made towards utilizing “supplementation facilities”, a more natural, albeit artificial environment for raising the fish that includes shade, rocks, sand, and various debris typical of their natural habitat. This natural approach allows the salmon somewhat “ready” for the wild. The idea behind this technique is that after the salmon are released into streams and spend time in the ocean, they know to return to that tributary to spawn, instead of the hatchery. While this method has increased the number of adult salmon returning to spawn, it still bears the negative possibility of genetically compromising the remaining gene pool of the wild fish.

Besides the genetic problems faced with breeding artificial salmon alongside with wild salmon, breeding solely within hatcheries can also ultimately lead to inbreeding depression. This results in the salmon having a reduced biological fitness that limits their survival due to breeding related individuals. Additionally, artificial selection and genetic modification by fish farms can also cause reduced fitness in reproductive success, swimming endurance and predator avoidance. Another reason farmed salmon are not as “fit” as wild salmon is due to the treatment they receive in the hatchery. The food salmon are fed is not healthy for them – its main purpose is to make them grow faster. This forced rapid growth can lead to numerous health problems.

Diseases experienced in fish farms are also experienced in the wild. They occur naturally and are caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. What exacerbates disease in a fish farm is overcrowding, which makes it fairly easy for the disease to spread throughout the hatchery. Specifically with viral infections, those who may not show symptoms of disease can be carriers of the virus and transmit further, whether in the farm or after their release into the wild. Consequently, once they are transported and deposited across river basins to be released, these diseases then go on to affect wild salmon with no immunity to the disease they have acquired. This decline in wild salmon has also caused declining effects in their predator populations, such as bears, orcas and eagles.

John Day Dam Fish Ladder.jpg Figure 3. The fish ladder at John Day Dam in Washington State. (Creative Commons)

Along with all the negatives that come with farm fish, the high production from hatcheries eliminates the need to regulate commercial and recreational harvest. So, because of the production from hatcheries, overfishing continues. Hatcheries have become a main source of economic wealth because they provide for the commercial harvests, as well as local harvests. A permanent and sustainable solution to combat the decline of wild salmon populations remains to be found. This problem continues to revolve around the construction and use of hydroelectric dams which provide the main source for electricity in the region; greatly reduce flood risks; and store water for drinking and irrigation.

The concept that hatcheries are compensating for the loss of fish populations caused by human activity is said by some to be like a way to “cover tracks” for past wrongdoings because it does nothing to help the naturally wild salmon at all. Hatcheries are only a temporary solution to combat the decline of the salmon population.

Jones_070615_BC_3097.jpgFish and river steward on the Salmo River

What we really need is an increase of spawning in wild salmon and to ensure that they have a way to survive the dams as they make their way to sea. Reforestation and protection of small spawning streams is one part of the solution. A more permanent, albeit partial, solution would be to find a way to advance the electricity industry reducing the need for hydropower. Until we find a way to make this happen, hatcheries seem to be a helpful way to continue to support the salmon-based livelihoods, as well as human food needs and preferences. Unfortunately, hatcheries do nothing to help the current situation of wild anadromous salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

In April of this year, the Lake Roosevelt Forum in Spokane WA outlined a 3-phase investigation into reintroducing salmon and steelhead to the Upper Columbia River Basin in both the US and Canada. In March 2016, Phase 1 began, dealing with the planning and feasibility of possible reintroduction. The study, expected to be released in 2018, concerns habitat and possible donor stock for reestablishing runs. All work on the studies are mostly complete and are predicted to be suitable for hundreds to thousands, or even millions of salmon. Forty subpopulations of salmon species have been identified and ranked for feasibility, including the Sockeye, Summer/Fall Chinook, Spring Chinook, Coho and Steelhead. The Confederated Tribe of the Colville Reservation stated they are waiting for one last permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Then they can begin the second phase of the decades-long research process using pilot fish release this fall.

Jones_110912_WA_2832-2.jpgChinook hatchery salmon underwater

Phase Two will be the first time salmon have returned to the upper Columbia River Basin in almost 80 years. This blockage came from the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in the late 1930’s and Chief Joseph Dam in 1955. The Confederation Tribes of the Colville Reservation fish managers plan to truck these salmon around the dam, since constructing a fish ladder would be too costly. Funding currently comes from tribes and federal agencies. Possible additional funding may come from the Environment and Climate Change Canada and the renegotiation of Columbia River Transboundary Treaty.

Renegotiations of the 1964 Columbia River Transboundary Treaty between the United States and Canada is currently underway. The first meeting took place in Washington D.C. on May 29 and 30, 2018. Just weeks ago the U.S. emphasized their stance on continuing careful management of flood risks and providing a reliable and economical power source while recognizing ecosystem concerns. The next meeting will take place in British Columbia on August 15 and 16, 2018. However,  tribes are not pleased with their exclusion from negotiating teams. Tribes excluded consist of the Columbia Basin’s Native American tribes, primarily in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and First Nation tribes in British Columbia, Canada.

Jones_070614_BC_0372.jpgMural of human usage of salmon in British Columbia

NWNL Director’s Addendum re: a just-released study: Aquaculture production of farmed fish is bigger than yields of wild-caught seafood and is growing by about 6% per year, yielding 75 million tons of seafood.  While it is a very resource-efficient way to produce protein and improve global nutrition and food security, concerns are growing about the sustainability of feeding wild “forage fish,” (eg: anchovies, herring and sardines) to farmed fish so they will grow better and faster. These small fish are needed prey for seabirds, marine mammals and larger fish like salmon. A June 14 study suggests soy might be a more sustainable alternative to grinding fishmeal for farmed seafood and livestock.

Bibliography:

Close, David. U.S. Department of Energy, accessed June 5, 18 by BE, website
Northwest Power and Conservation Council, accessed June 12, 18 by BE, website
Animal Ethics, accessed June 12, 18 by BE, website
Aquaculture, accessed June 12, 18 by BE, website
Luyer, Jeremy. PNAS, accessed on June 12, 18 by BE, website
Simon, David. MindBodyGreen, accessed on June 14 by BE, website
Kramer, Becky. The Spokesman-Review, accessed on June 14, 18 by BE, website
Harrison, John. Northwest Power and Conservation Council, accessed on June 14, 18 by BE, website
Schwing, Emily. Northwest News Network, accessed on June 14, 18 by BE, website
Office of the Spokesperson. U.S. Department of State, accessed on June 14, 18 by BE, website
 The Columbia Basin Weekly Fish and Wildlife News Bulletin, accessed on June 14, 18 by BE, website

Unless otherwise noted, all photos © Alison M. Jones.

Wild and Scenic River: Snake River

On December 1, 1975 the Snake River in Oregon was added to the Wild and Scenic River System. 32.5 miles of the river are designated as Wild; and 34.4 miles as Scenic. In addition, the Snake River Headwaters in Wyoming is also in the Wild and Scenic River System. 236.9 miles of the Snake River Headwaters are designated as Wild; 141.5 miles as Scenic and 33.8 as Recreational. The Snake River is a major tributary to the Columbia River, one of NWNL’s Case Study Watersheds. The following photos are from various NWNL expeditions to the Hells Canyon reach of the Snake River in both Oregon and Idaho, part of the designated section of the river. For more information about the Snake River view the NWNL 2014 Snake River Expedition on our website. For more information about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act read the first part of this blog series

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All photos © Alison M. Jones.

 

Sources:

https://www.rivers.gov/rivers/snake.php

https://www.rivers.gov/rivers/snake-hw.php

 

Let Salmon Migrate Up the Snake River Again

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Fish ladder in a Columbia River Dam. Alison Jones/NWNL

By Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director

Mitigation against impacts on salmon populations by the Columbia/Snake River dams has been deemed insufficient.  Thus, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for breaching, bypassing, or removing 14 Federal dams – including the 4 Lower Snake River Dams.  These agencies are now accepting public comments.  Given drastic declines of salmon, NWNL and many others who agree that avian predation management and “safety-net” hatcheries don’t do enough are sending in comments.  (More background info at www.crso.info.)

TO COMMENT on the Snake River Dams (by Feb. 7): Email comment@crso.info. Call 800-290-5033. Or mail letters to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NW Div., Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, OR 97208-2870.

Our NWNL Comment on the 4 Lower Snake River Dams sent to the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and Bureau of Reclamation:

For 10 years No Water No Life® has studied freshwater issues in the Columbia River Basin. We’ve focused on the Lower 4 Snake River Dams since 2014. During our 4-week Snake River Expedition, NWNL interviewed 17 scientists, fishermen, commercial farmers, USF&W staff, hatchery and dam operators, power companies, historians, the Port of Lewiston Manager and the Nez Perce Dept. of Fisheries. (Our 2014 Snake River itinerary)

After 3 follow-up visits to the Snake River Basin and continued research, No Water No Life asks you to breach, bypass or remove the Lower 4 Snake River dams. Below are the Q & A’s that informed our conclusion:

 Who cares about the future of the Lower 4 Snake River dams?  Many people – in and beyond the Columbia River Basin – are concerned. So far, over 250,000 taxpayer advocates have delivered comments supporting wild salmon and healthy rivers, according to Save our Wild Salmon. That’s a ¼ million people who’ve spoken out on meaningful, cost-effective salmon restoration that could occur with the removal of the 4 costly dams on the lower Snake River.

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Lower Granite Dam on Snake River’s Lake Bryan. Alison Jones/NWNL

Is there a real threat if nothing changes? Yes. The Endangered Species Coalition put Snake River Chinook on its top “Top Ten” list last month. In his examination of the Port of Lewiston’s diminishing role, Linwood Leahy notes we are pushing the salmon to extinction, even though they were here long before homo sapiens.

Is this plea just for salmon? No. Removing the Lower 4 Snake River dams will aid recovery of wild salmon, orca whales, freely-flowing rivers and forests enriched by remains of spawned salmon carrying ocean nutrients upstream. Nature built a fine web where species and ecosystems connect in ways we will probably never fully understand – but must respect. Loss of one species affects the entire trophic cascade of an ecosystem – be it the loss of predator species (e.g., lion or wolves) or the bottom of the food chain (e.g., herring or krill).

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Salmon hatchery in Columbia/Snake River System. Alison Jones/NWNL

The unique and already-endangered orcas (aka Southern Resident killer whales) are highly susceptible to declines of Snake River salmon, per The Orca Network. The Center for Whale Research claims that salmon restoration must “include the Fraser, Skagit and Columbia/Snake Rivers, the key sources that provide the wild salmon that the whales need to survive.”

How do the dams impact the salmon? Fish biologists agree that dams have decreased wild fish populations by making it more difficult for juvenile and adults to migrate to and from the ocean. Dams become salmon-killers each summer as water temperatures become lethally hot in slow-moving, open reservoirs. Even a 4-degree increase can kill thousands of fish.  When the dams go, wild salmon can again access over 5,000 miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat which is much cooler for salmon in this warming world.  Dam removal is agreed to be the single most effective means to restore populations of wild salmon, steelhead and Pacific Lamprey. It will also restore U. S. fishing industry jobs.

Does the Pacific NW need these 4 Snake River Dams for hydro energy? No. These outdated dams produce only 3% of the region’s power – and only during spring run-off, when demand is low. The electricity the dams produce can be replaced by affordable, carbon-free energy alternatives. Local wind energy has exploded and easily exceeds the capacity of the dams — by 3.4 times as much in the Pacific Northwest.  On some days the dam authorities can’t give away the little power they generate.  In light of that, it is wrong that taxpayers support exorbitant costs of maintaining these days (estimated at $133.6 million for 2015).

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Little Goose Lock and Dam on the Snake River. Alison Jones/NWNL

Do farmers or others need the Lower 4 Snake River Dams?  No. Distinct from the Columbia River system, the Snake River barge traffic, enabled by dams, has declined 70% in 20 years. Using the Corps of Engineers’ categorization, the Snake River has been a waterway of “negligible use” for years. There is no longer any containerized, barge shipping of lumber, wood chips, paper or pulse (peas, lentils, garbanzos) from the Snake River or anywhere to the Port of Portland. The only remaining shipping is for non-container commodities, such as wheat from the Palouse, which could be moved solely by truck-to-rail, instead of truck-to-barge. For further data, please feel free to email us (info@nowater-nolife.org) for a copy of “Lower Snake River Freight Transportation: Twenty Years of Continuous Decline” (October 25, 2016 by Linwood Laughy of Kooskia, Idaho).

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Wheat fields and wind energy in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

Much rail infrastructure is already in place and being expanded in realization that the dams are aging, performing as sediment traps (especially with climate change) and incurring heavy repair costs to prevent crumbling. The needed and smart investment would be a few more “loop rail” terminals with storage for grain. Long term, this will provide very cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly transport. There is a growing movement supporting more rail infrastructure, and even electric rail, in the US to create an interconnected and cleaner energy future.

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Ritzville WA Train Depot and grain silos in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

We ask you to avoid outdated date, miscalculations and past errors.  We ask you to hire independent, informed experts for their input on the dams’ actual costs and relevance.  We ask you to make the wise environmental and economical choice. Thank you.

Alison M. Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life®, LLC

 

Will the movie “DamNation” lead to the removal of the lower four Snake River Dams?

USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam
USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

Since the release of the movie “DamNation” over a year ago, over 72 dams have been removed and over 730 miles of rivers were restored across the United States according to the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers. In January of this year, the producers of the movie met with members of Congress and White House officials regarding the removal of the lower four Snake River dams. Lower Granite is one.

NWNL documented the Snake River on an expedition last May interviewing stakeholders of the river including local farmers, an irrigation association, members of the Nez Perce Tribe, the manager of the Port of Lewiston, Idaho Power spokespersons and conservation organizations. Each group presented what the importance of the Snake River is to them. The only stakeholders we could not interview are the 13 species of salmon, the lamprey, the whales and other ocean-going creatures as well as the riparian vegetation that depend on an abundance of salmon to thrive. They are also voices of the river. Will some or all of the lower four dams be removed?  Check out the facts and myths page on the website of Save Our Wild Salmon. Further information about DamNation and its influence on dam removal is also available.

Blog post and photo by Barbara Briggs Folger.

Behind the wheel

US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, east side of Hanford Nuclear Site, wheel controlling level of irrigation canal
US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, east side of Hanford Nuclear Site, wheel controlling level of irrigation canal

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Happy Chinese New Year of the Horse!

US: Washington, horse and barn
US: Washington, horse and barn

Wishing all watersheds enough rain and snow
to recharge their rivers and fields!
Hopefully this new year will bring more efficient irrigation technologies and more drought tolerant crops being planted,
because agriculture consumes 75-80%
of clean fresh water on this planet.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

at the confluence

The travel theme this week on Ailsa’s blog is: Connections. NWNL decided to join in (pun intended)! These are expedition images of river confluences. Click on photos for detail and caption info.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director