Robert T. Lackey

Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences

Oregon State University

Corvallis, Oregon  97331



Seminar Summary: The overall public policy goal of restoring Pacific salmon wild runs in the Columbia River Basin appears to enjoy widespread public support.  Billions of dollars have failed to reverse the long-term, overall decline.  To answer the question of whether the effort to rebuild wild runs through the release of hatchery-produced salmon, I asked 58 well-known salmon scientists to predict (anonymously) how the overall abundance of Columbia River Basin salmon (including steelhead) would change after 20 years if fishing was stopped and hatcheries were closed.  About 83% predicted that current (wild plus hatchery) salmon abundance (overall Columbia Basin run) would decline without hatchery stocking and fishing.  Most surveyed experts predicted that stopping fishing and closing hatcheries would not greatly change the current overall wild-only abundance in the Basin.  Based on these results, salmon fishing and hatchery additions are not currently believed to be among the major drivers of the low abundance of wild salmon in the Columbia River Basin.  The current overall abundance of wild salmon in the Columbia River Basin (roughly 3-5% of pre-1850s levels) is within the expected range, given the amount and availability of high-quality salmon habitat, past and current ecological changes, and overarching trends in oceanic and climate conditions.  Thus, stopping fishing and closing hatcheries likely will not drastically change the current wild salmon abundance in the Basin — and it may well drive wild runs even lower, according to many experts.

*Presented at a Pacific Salmon Commission (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) seminar on November 29, 2023.


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4 thoughts on “PACIFIC SALMON COMMISSION SEMINAR — Columbia River Basin: How Would Ending Fishing and Closing Hatcheries Change Wild Salmon and Steelhead Abundance?*

  1. What’s being ignored here is the overarching importance of hydropower dams for impacting Columbia/Snake R. & other Pac.-salmonid runs:

    Hughes, R.M., and 10 coauthors. 2023. Global concerns related to water biology and security: the need for language and policies that safeguard living resources versus those that dilute scientific knowledge. Water Biology and Security [online] 2(4): 100191 (

    Storch, A.J., and 11 coauthors. 2022. A review of potential conservation and fisheries benefits of breaching four dams in the Lower Snake River (Washington, USA). Water Biology and Security [online] 1(2): 100030 (

    Why? Bob

  2. Really enjoy your work and I think this report is especially important because there is so much emphasis these days on hatcheries as bad. It’s kind of trendy to bash hatcheries, and I’m afraid that such an opinion has permeated the Oregon and Washington F&W Commissions even if they don’t have evidence, or staff, that support that perspective. I received an email from The Conservation Angler, an anti-hatchery group (and anti other things salmon related, too) and they included an article about a “peer-reviewed literature survey” that, guess what? It slammed hatchery fish. Here is a link: From my experience as a buyer, I see plenty of healthy, big hatchery fish, along with wild ones. That isn’t necessarily any proof, but it is anecdotal evidence. For the record, I’ve been involved in Commercial salmon fisheries in Puget Sound and mostly the Columbia River for over 50 years, and I’ve been a marketer for over 40 years. I’ve also been a commercial advisor for WDF, before it was merged with Wildlife, and for WDFW since then, so I follow the research pretty closely. Keep up the excellent work!

  3. Robert, hatcheries have been an ineffective mitigation option for dams. Although hatchery reform has helped save some runs (notably, Snake R. sockeye), in general for both No. Amer. coasts, native (rather than hatchery) salmon survive to adulthood better, by being better-adapted to local conditions. Hatchery production is mostly to allow fishing in the face of cumulative impacts on Pac. salmonids, not to restore native production. Snake R. sockeye would benefit from breaching of the 4 lower-river dams.


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