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June 14, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Elwha dam removal questioned

Posted by Letters editor

Removal will destroy fisheries

Left out of an otherwise fine story about the dam removal is a substantive discussion of the economics of the incredible fishery the dams destroyed [“Dam fight over, but aim shifted,” NWSunday, June 5].

As a then-reporter for the Daily World of Aberdeen, I attended a fisheries conference in Port Angeles in the ’80s, partly on the topic of the dams. The arduous upriver climb deep into the Olympic Mountains for the chinook salmon bred a vast, magnificent run boasting many landings of fish more than 100 pounds.

It was the conclusion of an analysis at the conference that the scrap of hydropower produced by the dams fell far short of paying for the destruction they caused. The figure I recall is $40 million a year in ’80s dollars net loss to the Peninsula economy over the lifetime of the dams. This was based on the value of exceptional fisheries in other communities.

Today’s debates seem short on challenges to the assumption that environmental destruction is always the best economic choice. We rely on analyses of these questions.

— Bryn Beorse, Seattle

Eliminating hatchery can make river wilder

If you frequent rivers for sport, you know fish spawned by hand in a bucket never equal those spawned wild in a stream.

One is natural, the other’s phony. One is native, the other’s a nuisance — a counterfeit so often coined it threatens to replace the original.

When most fish on the spawning grounds come from a hatchery, wild fish are doomed. Hatcheries don’t mitigate dam devastation, they double it down. Substituting artificial for natural selection scrambles fish DNA. Flushed from a year’s confinement in a rearing-pond, hatchery fish migrate to sea. Returning, they mingle and spawn with their wild cohorts.

On the Elwha River near Port Angeles we dismantle two dams that deny fish passage to fresh water from salt and vice versa. Detained a century behind the dams, sequestered as rainbow trout, descendants of steelhead escape to the sea. They return transformed as ocean-thick spawners seeding their natal stream.

Can we eliminate a hatchery, making a wild river wilder? The Elwha’s sister stream, the Sol Duc, says we can. More wild, winter-run steelhead run the Sol Duc than any other Peninsula river, but they compete with a curious relative from the Snider Creek Hatchery. This facility produces peculiar offspring whose wild parents are stolen from the Sol Duc, stripped of their roe and milt, spawned by hand, then dispatched and disposed of. Though capable of returning and spawning multiple times, wild steelhead are perverted: they spawn artificially — once.

Free-running rivers, always have been, always will be, the best hatchery. We conserve wild trout, steelhead and salmon, saving both money and fish, when we allow nature to do what nature always does best.

— John Farrar, Seattle

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