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How to Kill a Reborn River

Article in the winter edition of Fly Rod & Reel from Ted Williams on the Elwha Fish Recovery

Fly Rod & Reel cover


A great article from Ted Williams on the Elwha Fish Recovery plan and the threat it poses to wild fish in the basin. Check out the article, How to Kill a Reborn River, in the latest issue of Fly Rod and Reel magazine. WFC Executive Director, Kurt Beardslee and past WFC Board President, Bill McMillan were both interviewed for the article. Below are a few paragraphs:


...“A colossal failure” is how Kurt Beardslee, director of the Wild Fish Conservancy, describes the saturation bombing of Northwest rivers with hatchery fish. “The [state, federal and tribal] hatchery bureaucracy continues to make the same mistakes over and over and over again, each time expecting a different result,” he says. “That’s one definition of insanity.”...

...Bill McMillan, a field biologist recently retired from the Wild Fish Conservancy, has tracked smolt-to-adult returns for hatchery salmon and steelhead and then computed cost per harvested fish. On the North Fork of Washington’s Nooksack River, the Kendall Creek Hatchery spends $1,468 for each harvested Chambers Creek steelhead. The public gets a better deal on the Skagit, where the Marblemount Hatchery spends $1,032 per harvested Chambers Creek steelhead. McMillan calls hatchery salmonids in Northwest rivers a “toxin,” equating them with “headwater gold mines.” And he points out that there’s more working against wild fish than just hatchery-caused disease, competition, genetic degradation and increased harvest. We’ve also created a predator explosion by packing fresh and salt water with physically impaired, surface-oriented idiot fish.

The Elwha’s Fish Recovery Plan talks about “adaptive management” best defined as “plan, implement, check, adjust.” But McMillan offers this: “Adaptive management has been boilerplate language in every plan I’ve looked at in the last 15 years, and I don’t know of a single place it has occurred—that is, where a hatchery program has been taken out or even reduced.” Moreover, the “adaptive management” language in the plan is alarming. It says that if runs recover quickly, hatchery releases will be ramped down. But hatchery releases will ensure that wild runs don’t recover quickly. It’s like the old, equally discredited prescription for anemia—leeches...

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