The Northwest Power and Conservation Council – the powerful four-state entity that oversees hydropower operations in the Columbia-Snake system – is considering substantial cutbacks in salmon-hatchery operations. Citizens in our “salmon-centric” area should attend a public hearing this Thursday starting at 5:30 p.m. at Astoria’s Liberty Theater and let the council know what we think of these plans.

The council is comprised of two members each from Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho. Of these states, all but Montana will benefit greatly this year from robust salmon returns. It is little short of amazing that landlocked and dam-obstructed Idaho is seeing significant improvements in salmon returns after years when it appeared runs were in a death spiral. Oregon and Washington are in the midst of a salmon season garnering national attention. Sportsmen, commercial and tribal fishermen all benefit, as do consumers and connoisseurs, who will enjoy catches and meals to celebrate.

In what appears to be a good-hearted but naive effort to summarily switch off hatcheries and hope for more natural-spawning success, a proposal has been put forth by the council’s staff to cutback hatchery production above Bonneville by more than 20 percent. In an unpredictable interplay with ocean conditions and other factors, these cuts would begin to choke salmon returns three years following implementation.

In common with those who prefer steps to bolster natural spawning processes, people here on the Columbia estuary wish the river’s long path of interconnected habitats had not been flagrantly manipulated by dams, reservoirs and fish-passage strategies that were only an after-thought. Organizations like Salmon For All fought long and hard on behalf of natural passage and spawning. But recognizing that these were no longer enough because of dams, our region realized early on that hatcheries are a necessary way to maintain salmon populations.

And hatcheries remain vital. They have gotten steadily better at producing healthy fish that are essentially indistinguishable from naturally spawning salmon in terms of DNA, behavior and survival. They could be even better if all hatcheries adopted practices pioneered by Northwest Treaty Tribes, which are seeing remarkable success at facilities like the Nez Perce Tribe’s Johnson Creek project.

This year’s stellar returns prove that hatcheries co-exist well with the slow recovery of “wild” salmon runs – how many, if any, salmon are really wild is a legitimate and hotly debated question.

This is no time to fool around with a cooperative and effective salmon system. Show up Thursday and let the council know your opinion.

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