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Hatch and release - A Follow Up

Two sides to the hatchery debate. A follow up from the article in Fieldsports Magazine

Conservationists say – -

  • Hatchery fish are weaker. Fish bred in hatcheries have defective genes that undermine the fishes ability to return to the river particularly in the second and third generation. (Information based on Pacific species).

  • Hatchery fish interbreeding with “wild fish” is detrimental to the longevity of the wild fish?

  • Scientists and conservationists don’t want too many hatchery fish for the reasons above! (Suggesting that hatcheries work). If like they keep inferring, Hatcheries don’t work, then this should not be a problem?

  • Restoration of wild fish through “Natural means” is the main agenda of science-based groups. The “business” of salmon fishing is “NOT” their “main” concern!

  • The longevity of the “species” for “future generations” is most important! However, we could say, Future generations of what?! If the decline continues at the same pace then Salmon angling and fishing will have all but died out long before the source of the problem is identified (bear in mind, we’ve been trying to find this for the last 100 years), let alone try and do anything about it.

  • They say salmon populations are cyclic, that it’s all happened before! In all probability there is some element of truth in this. However, the statement itself does nothing to help the “business” of salmon fishing at this particular lean time.

A new Salmon Fisherman Trying his best. But what will the future bring?

Fisheries Business –

  • Hatcheries have been used for many years. However, conservationists and scientists feel they may be the reason our fish are weaker and don’t now do so well at sea! Research on Steelhead and Pacific salmon would suggest this to be the case, meaning that, having introduced hatchery fish, they must now continue!

  • Hatcheries support “Atlantic Salmon” fisheries throughout the northern Atlantic. Especially those with little or vastly reduced natural populations. Those fisheries will become the Backbone of the salmon fishing business whilst the others continue to fail. The reason, simple, more smolts to sea = more fish to rods..

  • The most prolific is the Ranga river in Iceland. Interestingly, it is both one of the most expensive to access, and most sought after with a “certain” group of people. Other, less prolific, but popular fisheries, which without hatcheries, would not be in business, are Aaroy in Norway and The river Carron in Scotland and Delphi in Ireland. Hatcheries here small scale, relatively inexpensive and the life blood of the fishery. There are many more examples. This is 100% fact!

  • A mistaken release of smolts from a Hatchery on the River Spey over a 4 year period during the 1990s saw the catch of that particular beat rise by 4% compared to a decline of 3% by beats around it. Instead of catching and average 7% of the total anual Spey catch, over the active period of the hatchery this was 11%, falling back to 7% and less after its closure. The hatchery at tulchan lead to 35% more fish being caught and smolt releases were minimal. Also remember, at this time the river will have had at least 4 times more fish in it than it did in 2018.

  • People say that those fisheries make fishing overly expensive. Given current trends, what are the short term options. The “business” of salmon fishing does not the time to wait for a long term option!?

Conclusion –

Given the above, it would seem that low numbers of salmon returning to our rivers bring with them a conflict of interest between conservation groups with research based agendas based on finding the “route cause” of the problem, supplying government with their information, before then offering a solution. Scottish Salmon Farming is a good example of this. Having found the route problems, presented them to government, they choose to ignored them, instead deciding to “increase” production by 100%. In many ways we “know” much of the problems but can do nothing about them. Predation by predators, both avian and aquatic are an obvious problem as their number has increased. The missing salmon “project”, in my opinion is a very good one and should be supported by all Salmon Conservation Groups and anglers who believe in the science, as this will tell us and provide government with hard facts. However, Devils Advocate tells me the track record of government means, even with with the scientific facts, they will not deviate from their own agenda which, irrespective of their half baked lies, is the sacrifice of wild fish over farmed. Unfortunate, but true! As far as this is conserned, believe it, we're on our own!

So, following this hypothesis. Question - Has the Salmon Fishing “Industry/Business” got longevity?

  • In the short/mid term (10 – 20 years), without Hatcheries or predator cull, no must be the answer. Unless of course you buy into the cyclic theory and all is about to come good again in the next year or so.

  • With further research (Missing Smolt project), which realistically, given track record of this type of thing, will take at least 3 years to take its findings to the political table, followed by at least another 3 to formulate and implement a plan. So, unless there is change in the way those groups process and bring the facts to the political table, again, the answer here can only be no. However, here lies an opportunity to change. Bringing groups together help.

  • Bringing Hatcheries to unknown rivers that used to be decent salmon rivers but now forgotten about. Like the example of the Aaroy above. A fishery back from the dead, and this during a time where all other rivers are declining.

  • We know that without sea survival levels of above at least 5% (returning smolts) in the natural world (given all problems created by both nature and man), we will continue to have decline in natural salmon populations.

  • We know that the only way to buck this trend in the short term, is, like those successful rivers are currently doing, is to put greater numbers (than The river naturally produces) to sea. However, this is where those promoting genetically wild fish (not that I’m sure where those actually come from given the prolonged use of hatcheries in this country). I suppose DNA tests may tell us. Those same tests would finally tell us if Peter Grey’s theory of introduced genes from other rivers producing stronger, more adaptive smolts was right too.

  • If current hatchery rearing is producing “Atlantic” Salmon with defective genes, then surely the presence of those, will protect their much fitter, more streetwise wild fish whilst in the ocean? Also, logic would then tell me that something in the hatchery rearing process/methodology was/is wrong. At the end of the day, we’re not breeding with some farmed fish. Those are wild fish from their river of origin. Well as long as we have some remaining. Would it not be better trying to find out “what” this is. Would this not give us a better short term solution?

Questions requiring answers. For the “business” of salmon fishing. It’s clear to me we don’t have too much time. However, for the business of conservation and science, it appears we have all the time in the world.

My own opinion is – Time is running out. Look at the facts. How many people fishing? What is salmon fishing now worth to Scotland (compared with 15 years ago)? How much is salmon fishing worth to the fishing tackle business? How many rods sold? Compared to the past, how many junior members of Salmon Fishing Associations? Answering all those questions will let everyone know where we are and potentially where the salmon fishing industry is going. That or we can bury our heads in the sand, say it’s all a cycle and, as we’ve always done, hope for the best. Frankly, this might be as good an option as any.

The conservation and scientific community will always be there, studying and coming to slightly different conclusions. The ocean is an “ever changing “ ecosystem, which is why, the conclusions found by one project, will be different to that of the next, leading to difference of scientific opinion, providing a perfect excuse for the Government of the day to fail to deal properly with the problem.

But rest assured, the salmon is a survivor and will out live all of us! The problem is not with the species, its with the Business of Salmon Fishing.

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