For the last few years, we have been working to create Wild Steelhead Gene Banks on rivers across Washington such as the Skagit, Elwha, Grays and Chinook. The creation of these gene banks is mandated under the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan because according to NOAA Fisheries and numerous independent scientists, planting hatchery steelhead can pose genetic and ecological threats to wild steelhead runs – from competition for suitable habitat and increased predation to loss of genetic fitness. The point of these gene banks is to create steelhead sanctuaries, where wild steelhead can thrive in the absence of these manufactured fish.
However, after years of treating hatchery steelhead as a threat to their wild counterparts, NOAA is proposing to protect 23 hatchery steelhead and salmon programs under the Endangered Species Act! This dangerous decision would enable NOAA to manage hatchery steelhead like wild steelhead, which would have cascading effects and seriously undermine the chance for wild steelhead recovery.
While certain specialized hatchery programs can assist the recovery of wild runs that are on the very edge of extinction, the current broad-brush NOAA proposal sets a troubling precedent. Fish engineered in hatcheries are not wild steelhead. These fish are not the answer to steelhead declines up and down the West Coast. In fact they are one major cause of it. In the coming months, we will be working to ensure that hatchery fish are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Please stay tuned and get ready to take action!