The road to extinction is paved with good intentions: negative association of fish hatcheries with threatened salmon

Phillip S. Levin, Richard W. Zabel, John G. Williams

Abstract

Hatchery programmes for supplementing depleted populations of fish are undergoing a worldwide expansion and have provoked concern about their ramifications for populations of wild fish. In particular, Pacific salmon are artificially propagated in enormous numbers in order to compensate for numerous human insults to their populations, yet the ecological impacts of this massive hatchery effort are poorly understood. Here we test the hypothesis that massive numbers of hatchery–raised chinook salmon reduce the marine survival of wild Snake River spring chinook, a threatened species in the USA. Based on a unique 25–year time–series, we demonstrated a strong, negative relationship between the survival of chinook salmon and the number of hatchery fish released, particularly during years of poor ocean conditions. Our results suggest that hatchery programmes that produce increasingly higher numbers of fish may hinder the recovery of depleted wild populations.