From the Headlight Herald Newspaper • Tillamook, OR • March, 2014

written by Jack Smith, Chairman of CCA Oregon Hatchery Committee

Coastal Multi-Species Plan and Hatchery Reform


The process of generating a Coastal Multispecies Conservation and Management Plan (CMP) has generated a great deal of concern from not only Tillamook County residents, but from rural residents up and down the Oregon Coast -- and rightfully so.  Hatcheries and the fishery opportunities they provide are extremely important to the social and economic fabric of our rural communities, but we have been reducing or eliminating hatchery programs for literally decades.  These hatchery reductions represent an undeniable risk to the well-being of our region.  Questions continue to emerge about the conservation benefits of these decisions in light of the many examples where hatchery fish have been removed and wild populations have not increased.

The reductions in responsible hatchery production have shocked not only our rural coastal communities, but communities and tribal councils across the Northwest.  To that extent it has served a useful purpose as groups with generally divergent interests are coming together and uniting to promote policies that better recognize the benefits of responsible hatchery production.  We also now know that we must take action to protect our hatcheries and fisheries from the escalating lawsuits from special interests.   

With regards to the CMP, concerns exist about the lack of science supporting key aspects of the final amended draft plan. However, we also recognize that a plan is needed to meet the legal requirements for coastal river hatcheries under Oregon's Native Fish Conservation Policy.  Failing to fulfill our legal obligation to have a plan in place might open the door to more activist lawsuits similar to those being witnessed in other areas of the state.  Having a plan, while not insuring against litigation, would most definitely decrease the likelihood that such lawsuits ultimately prevail.

With the CMP approved, we must then begin a larger policy discussion between ODFW, the recreational license buyers that largely fund its budget, the rural communities that are affected by these management decisions and elected officials to restore common sense to our fisheries policies.  It would be much more productive if we could make management decisions based on what is best for fish, fisheries and the well-being of communities rather than having to continually choose the lesser of two evils.   

While some rivers have already been set aside as wild fish museums we cannot afford to have all or even a significant number of our rivers, streams and bays managed in this manner.  Before hatchery production levels or stocking regimes are changed, there needs to be a clear demonstration that current hatchery operations and or protocols are causing a specific quantifiable conservation problem.  Prior to the reduction or elimination of hatchery programs we should first update hatchery infrastructure, improve broodstock standards, rearing protocols, stocking regimes, increase selective harvest opportunities, and take other regulatory actions less likely to reduce opportunity.  Past, present and future conservation measures should be monitored for effectiveness at the population level and adjusted or discontinued as indicated by periodic review. 

Our fisheries, and the hatcheries that support them, are important not only for us but for our children and future generations here on the coast and elsewhere around the state.  We simply must get this right.