U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Washington, DC 20240
ABSTRACT Authority and responsibility for stewardship and management of fish and fishery resources in the United States is shared by state agencies and several federal agencies. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has responsibilities for: 1) restoring populations of fishes with national importance, 2) mitigating the impacts of federal water development projects on fish populations, 3) protecting and restoring populations of threatened and endangered fishes, 4) providing fisheries management assistance to tribal governments and other federal agencies, 5) managing fisheries on certain federal lands, and 6) providing federal leadership for the stewardship of inland fish resources. The FWS also cooperates with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in many programs, especially those pertaining to anadromous, estuarine, or coastal migratory fishes.
Propagated fishes produced at 78 National Fish Hatcheries are used extensively in the Services fisheries activities. The federal government has operated fish hatcheries since 1871. Only two states, Delaware and Hawaii, have never had a federal fish hatchery. During most of the history of federal fish propagation, the desirability of producing and stocking such fish was not questioned by resource managers, or their constituents. Propagated fishes compensated for habitat destruction, pollution, dam construction, and overfishing. Propagated fishes could be used to enhance fisheries by supplementing existing populations, filling "uninhabited niches," and/or adding additional desirable fishes to the fishery. However, the assumption that all of these purposes were desirable and consistent with sound environmental principles has been challenged. Consequently, the FWS has initiated a comprehensive review of its fish propagation activities to ensure that the various uses of propagated fishes are consistent with management goals, other Service policies, and statutory laws.
INTRODUCTION The individual states within the United States have primary responsibility and authority for fishery resource management under the Constitution of the United States. However, the federal fisheries agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), have active fisheries programs that carry responsibilities for specific functions, species, or geographic areas. The NMFS has responsibility for all species and activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), outside the state territorial seas and inside the "200 mile limit." NMFS also has major, shared responsibilities for anadromous species and coastal or estuarine ecosystems. The FWS provides federal leadership for aquatic resource management and preservation activities in inland (fresh) water ecosystems and cooperates in the management of anadromous species, as well as some estuarine or coastal species. The FWS has lead authority for the protection and recovery of endangered species in the fresh waters of the United States. The FWS is responsible for also leading and coordinating activities designed to restore populations of freshwater fish stocks depleted through overharvest, pollution, habitat degradation, or other factors. Responsibility for mitigating the effects of federal water development projects such as building dams, irrigation programs, or channelization for shipping have also been given to the FWS. Mitigation activities often involve the production and use of fihes propagated in one or more of the 78 fish hatcheries operated by the FWS to replace stocks or species lost through development activities. Similarly, restoration, recovery, and management programs have often used propagated fishes to maintain stocks where the entire life cycle of particular species cannot be completed naturally or to supplement natural production that is inadequate to maintain the fish stocks at desired levels. The use of propagated fishes for such purposes has been an activity of the federal government for over 120 years. Propagation of fishes for food purposes has never been a primary activity of the National Fish Hatchery system; however, commercial fisheries for some species of salmon have been partially supported by public aquaculture.
The first federal fish hatchery was established at Bucksport, Maine, in 1871, followed shortly in 1872 by another on the McCloud River in California. Both hatcheries were intended to supplement and maintain populations of salmonid fishes that were in serious decline due to habitat degradation and relatively unrestricted harvest. Since that time, over 200 federal fish hatcheries have been constructed and operated in 48 states. Only Delaware and Hawaii have never had a federal fish hatchery. The National Fish Hatcheries have propagated more than 60 species of fishes, primarily for stocking into inland waters and in support of recreational fisheries. Seventy-eight National Fish Hatcheries remain in operation in 1993. Most of the 120+ facilities no longer in the federal system remain in production, but they are operated by state fishery resource agencies.
The missions assigned to each facility depended on the circumstances associated with its authorization and construction, but generally goals were related to restoring or maintaining a particular stock or to enhancing or diversifying fishing opportunities for recreational anglers. Early fisheries managers often assumed that hatcheries could compensate for watershed/habitat destruction, dams, pollution, and over-fishing. In addition, introduction of "desirable" sport fishes to new waters, or extending their range to new areas, or supplementing natural production in the hope of having larger harvests were considered as beneficial. Politicians could rely on voter approval to obtain authorization and appropriations to build fish hatcheries in their districts.
Fish propagation during the first 80 years of operation of the National Fish Hatchery system was often more art than science. Hatchery managers were often recruited from nearby farms and had only practical backgrounds in farm animal husbandry to guide them in their fish production activities. Survival and growth within the hatchery, resistance to disease, and hardiness during handling were the most important characteristics of "hatchery fish." Survival after stocking, development to maturity, and contribution to the long-term stability of the stock often were assumed without supporting evidence. Concern for genetic integrity or the evolutionary potential of the receiving ecosystem were simply not considered. Many fisheries were maintained where natural processes could not have sustained them and yet the general public continued to support the operation and expansion of the system. This may be taken as an indication that the goals of maintaining and diversifying recreational fisheries were met satisfactorily by fish propagated in the public aquaculture systems, insofar as he public was concerned.
Prior to 1950, state and federal hatcheries were the primary sources of fish for both private and public waters. Development of farm ponds, starting in the 1930s, created additional demands for fish from federal hatcheries to stock these new waters. The concept that public hatcheries may compete with private fish farmers did not exist at that time. Commercial aquaculture did not develop on a large scale until formulated feeds (dry diets) were developed; therefore, public hatcheries were developed and operated to supply farm ponds, as well as public waters.
Nevertheless, National Fish Hatchery system development must be evaluated within the context of the time, values, and practices of the period during which it developed. The National Fish Hatcheries and propagated fishes provided resource managers with a product and practices through which they were able to maintain fisheries that otherwise might have disappeared. Generations of anglers, and others concerned with aquatic ecosystems, had continuing reasons to observe and value the ecosystems that received the product of these pioneer facilities.
PRESENT OPERATIONS AND SITUATION
National Fish Hatcheries are now concentrated in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and northern California) and the Southeast regions of the United States. The Northwest hatcheries produce fish to support the goal of restoring and/or maintaining populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead in rivers throughout the area. Construction of dams, forestry and agriculture practices, pollution, overharvest, and climatic variations have seriously reduced many populations to the point where they seem dependent on propagated fish. Hatcheries in the Southeast region serve as mitigation for habitat and fisheries that were lost because of dam construction. In particular, trout fisheries have been established in the cold tailwaters below dams, thereby replacing the recreational fishing opportunities that were based on native fishes.
Several hatcheries focus on restoration and/or maintenance of lake trout or Atlantic salmon. Restoration of lake trout in the Great Lakes, following decimation by overfishing and the sea lamprey that invaded after the construction of the Welland Canal, is the primary goal of National Fish Hatcheries in Wisconsin and Michigan. National Fish Hatcheries in New England have focused on reestablishing self-sustaining populations of Atlantic salmon. Hatcheries in other regions supply fish for a variety of purposes, but nearly all production supports goals of restoration of nationally important stocks, recovery of endangered species, or mitigation for water development.
Production datafrom 1992 indicates that the emphasis of the National Fish Hatchery system is on salmonid fishes (Table 1). Production for 1992 shows that chinook salmon (for restoration) and rainbow trout (for mitigation) were the primary species produced by the federal hatcheries. Large numbers of walleye, northern pike, and striped bass were produced, but the weight was much less than that for the salmonids due to the small size at which these fish were stocked.
Salmonids are produced throughout the country except for the lower Mississippi River Valley and the Gulf Coast regions. Walleye and northern pike are produced primarily in the Great Lakes and northern Great Plains areas, while striped bass, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill are produced in southern and southeastern locations. Facilities specializing in the production of largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bluegill in support of farm pond stocking programs were either transferred to state operation and/or ownership in the early 1980s or converted to the production of other species. Paddlefish, four species of sturgeon, and 26 other species are reared at warmwater facilities, primarily in southern areas. Although one facility, the Dexter (NM) National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center, specializes in the propagation of endangered species, several facilities maintain populations of endangered fishes.
THE CHALLENGES AND THE FUTURE
Many stocks and populations of fishes are at all-time low levels. The number of populations and species listed as endangered or threatened has risen rapidly. Evidence of habitat degradation, pollution, and overharvest of fish stocks has accumulated rapidly as the impacts of human population growth and industrialization become better recognized. Although these and other factors not related to propagation have been determined to be responsible for many of the declines in fish stocks, hatchery practices have been suggested as contributing factors by some critics.
Concern for animals at the individual organism level, rather than at the population level, has grown in concert with awareness of species that are rare, threatened, or endangered. The Endangered Species Act requires protecting endangered or threatened species from all activities that might further reduce their populations. Practices that once were evaluated only in terms of the benefits they produced for humans are now subject to criticism that they create risk to protected species, or even entire ecosystems. Stocking hatchery propagated fishes that might prey on or compete with endangered species must be reconsidered to be certain that such activities do not further jeopardize species at risk. Some geneticists and evolutionary scientists have also challenged stocking and hatchery operational practices based on the belief that all native species and strains, whether at risk or not, are critical to evolutionary potential, long-term ecosystem stability, and productivity of each system. The role and benefits of fish hatcheries and management of fisheries based on stocking activities have been challenged by these individuals, and support for their position has grown in the absence of substantial and adequate studies to the contrary. In response, proponents of hatcheries and stocking programs contend that hatcheries have been the primary force acting to save many stocks from extirpation because of pollution, habitat degradation, overharvest, and other human influences.
As the controvery continues, the list of "charges" against the use of propagated fishes in restoration, recovery, mitigation, and public resource management programs becomes longer and opponents to practices that have been considered acceptable speak with louder and louder voices. Hatchery programs and hatchery produced fishes are alleged to cause a variety of problems. Some of the allegations are:
1. Permanent dependence on stocking programs is created;
2. Populations decline despite stocking programs; therefore, hatcheries and stocking are not the solution;
3. Reliance on hatcheries has led to failure to prevent habitat destruction, pollution, and dams, thereby permitting continued habitat loss;
4. Hatchery construction and operation are expensive, thereby siphoning off funds needed for habitat restoration;
5.Stocking propagated fishes modifies ("pollutes") the genetic integrity of "wild" fishes, diminishing the fitness of wild stocks;
6. Propagation and stocking allow increased harvest of wild populations that are already stressed by overharvest;
7. Fish produced in hatcheries may carry higher pathogen loads than "wild" fish, thereby spreading pathogens;
8. Use of natural spawning fish for hatchery broodstocks has the effect of "stealing" spawners from wild populations, thus reducing both the numbers and the genetic diversity of natural spawners;
9. Hatcheries are expensive and unreliable, as evidenced by the decline of many stocks that have been supplemented with propagated fishes;
10. "Hatchery fish" are inferior because of learning that took place in the hatchery environment and because of selection for characteristics that are not valuable under natural conditions;
11. Stocking large numbers of "hatchery fish" may "swamp" native populations and change a genetic constitution that has been developed specifically in response to long-term evolutionary pressures.
Regardless of whether such claims are valid, public agencies must consider them if they are held by substantial numbers of their constituents. Practices that have been assumed to be beneficial and that have not been observed to be harmful must be evaluated more critically. Even if substantial changes are not made, greater resources must be devoted to evaluating the results of natural resource propagation and stocking programs.
As the Fish and Wildlife Service looks to the future and attempts to define the appropriate uses of propagated fishes in its programs, changes will be made. Even though we believe that many of the allegations and criticisms of stocking and propagation programs are misdirected, or even invalid, they reflect real concerns of substantial numbers of people. Valuable programs cannot be eliminated simply because highly motivated individuals or groups call for such action, but neither can their criticisms be ignored. We recognize that the "political climate" and the value ystems of younger generations favor "greener" strategies than traditional conservation has provided. The Aquatic Nuisance Species Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act provide legal bases to challenge "business as usual" if the FWS does not respond or develop unimpeachable rebuttals to the challenges it has heard and will continue to hear. How then, will the FWS evaluate its existing activities and programs? What uses of propagated fishes will be made in the future programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service?
As a first step, the Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating a comprehensive review of its entire fish hatchery program. Change should be expected, but no one expects a recommendation to eliminate propagation and stocking from the fisheries management "tool chest." The recommendations of the review will establish fundamental policies but cannot answer all of the many pertinent questions that can be answered only through careful scientific investigations.
Reliable information and data are needed and will be obtained to answer the following questions: What, if anything, is the impact of changes in allele (gene) frequency of fish populations that include large numbers of propagated fishes? Are propagated fishes neutral, inferior, or superior to native populations in altered environments? What impacts do introduced or propagated fishes have on populations of native fishes? Is there a difference between the distribution and impacts of pathogens in hatcheries and in natural habitats? How should harvest be managed in mixed stocks of propagated and wild fishes? Is a "hatchery gene pool" better than "no gene pool," or does alteration of the genetic integrity of a population seriously diminish its evolutionary potential?
Some changes and conditions that can be expected include: a) greater attention to "genetic matching," along with increased emphasis on "ecosystem management"; b) management plans, based on the condition and potential of each ecosystem, will guide propagation activities in the future--one policy will not fit all situations; c) private sector aquaculture will continue to expand and will become the primary source of human seafood and aquarium fishes and will provide major sources of supply for recreational fishing where specific species and genetic strains are not required; d) public hatcheries will be tailored to specific functions such as "production hatcheries" to maintain commercial fisheries; "experimental hatcheries," for research and maintenance of threatened and endangered fishes, and "temporary hatcheries," to provide short-term production while temporary problems are corrected; and e) greater participation by constituents in the process of determining the appropriate use of propagated fishes in the programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service.