I was disappointed to read that the recent Siletz Anglers Association fundraiser (March 11 issue) was headlined as a “conservation effort.” It was nothing of the sort. It was another attempt to market a spring chinook hatchery program in Yaquina Bay similar to the one that failed in the 1980s. A private company, Oregon Aqua Foods, operated that program. In 1975, OAF planted 5,500 spring chinook smolts raised at the Trask River hatchery. In 1986, nearly 4.5 million smolts were obtained from Rogue River hatchery and released in Yaquina Bay. Adult returns to the bay were dismal, and in 1990, OAF was out of business.
Spring chinook are not native to the Yaquina basin because the habitat here will not support their life history requirements. Where spring chinook exist, the Siletz and Alsea, for example, they are genetically distinct from the fall chinook in those basins. Adults return March through June, holdover in deep pools, spawn in September and October. Introducing non-native spring chinook first begs the economic question: how many of these animals will return when, and where they are expected? The biological risks are even more substantive: competition, in the ocean and in the bay, and well-documented parasitic disease from net pen programs, would put all the wild salmonids of the Yaquina basin at risk.
In the five years I have lived here on the coast, I see how easy it is for natural resource considerations to be drop-kicked to a lower status. How can we turn our backs on more tourism and more jobs, no matter the cost and the uncertainty of return on investment? If SAA is really serious about improving their angling opportunities, they should volunteer and invest in local river and estuary habitat restoration. Seventy percent of our historical coastal estuary habitat has been lost over time but is being diligently restored. Recovering natural ecosystem function increases juvenile salmon life history diversity and adult abundance and is critical to the future of our salmon and steelhead fisheries.
Peter J. Tronquet