Hatcheries vs fish farms

In his May 25 letter, the secretary of the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society draws some important distinctions between open net-cage fish farms and salmon hatcheries. He’s quite right that they are different beasts, but readers should be aware that hatcheries also pose risks to wild salmon.

A growing body of peer-reviewed scientific research shows that, in many cases, hatchery-raised salmon simply replace wild salmon, with no net increase in returns. Hatchery-raised salmon may also eat smaller wild salmon, compete with wild salmon for limited food supplies in the ocean and space in freshwater habitat, and/or spread disease to wild salmon. Hatchery-raised salmon can also interbreed with wild salmon, thus interfering with natural selection, lowering the genetic integrity of wild salmon, and compromising their ability to adapt to a changing climate. For decades hatchery fish in B.C. and elsewhere have prompted heavy fishing pressure, contributing to serious overfishing of less abundant wild stocks that migrate alongside hatchery fish.

Where wild salmon populations are on the brink of extinction, carefully-planned hatchery operations can help buy precious time to address root problems such as habitat destruction and overfishing. But they are rarely a lasting fix.

The federal government has recognized the risks posed by hatcheries, and in their Policy for the Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon promise to develop a ‘biological risk assessment framework’ for salmon ‘enhancement’ in B.C.  At a time when the total output of hatchery-raised salmon to the North Pacific Ocean exceeds five billion fish per year, we must carefully consider the role of hatcheries with respect to the future of our precious wild salmon.

For more information on salmon hatcheries, visit www.watershed-watch.org.

Aaron Hill

Watershed Watch Salmon Society