In a renewed lawsuit pitting economics against environmental concerns, judges are again being asked to consider whether hatchery-raised fish should be considered identical to wild salmon when counting fish populations. Although a ruling last year declared that they were, in fact, not the same, an Oregon-based business alliance has objected to the decision, claiming that the distinction unfairly lowers salmon counts and unnecessarily disrupts development and commerce in favor of protecting salmon habitat.
Wild salmon and hatchery-raised salmon are genetically similar, environmentalists counter, but wild salmon have adapted behaviors that contribute to much greater survival numbers in natural habitat, as opposed to the higher death rates of hatchery fish released into the wild. 16 salmon and steelhead species are listed as endangered in the Pacific Northwest, and their habitats are protected and managed under the Endangered Species Act. Fishermen and conservation groups argue that including human-raised fish in wild fish counts leads to an inaccurate portrait of fish stocks, and thus irresponsible management of their waters.
An estimated 137 other species depend upon the health and stability of wild salmon stocks for their own ecological survival.