Modern Day Lysenkoism: Fish Groups Pummel Administration
for Removing Protections for  Wild Salmon

by Dan Bacher
May 16, 2004

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A broad coalition of recreational fishing, commercial fishing, scientific and environmental groups condemned the Bush administration for a new and yet unreleased policy that would remove badly-needed protections from many of the 27 listed West Coast salmon stocks.

The administration plans to count hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead when deciding whether to continue listing stocks as “threatened” or “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act, even though the scientific community has urged them not to do so.

The policy change, made in response to a 2001 court decision filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation as part of a “wise use” movement campaign to strip habitat protections, was first revealed in a Washington Post article on April 29. Bush administration officials confirmed the decision, which will be released by NOAA Fisheries in June.

“This policy circumvents the most basic tenets of the Endangered Species Act and effectively lets the federal government off the hook for any responsibility to recover salmon and healthy rivers and streams up and down the West Coast and inland to Idaho,” said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited. “Hatchery fish certainly have a role in restoring salmon runs and mitigations some of the damage inflicted by salmon declines, but they have no place in determining federal protections.”

Glen Spain, Northwest Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the policy change amounts to a “giant legal loophole” that allows the federal government to back off from habitat protections in California and the Pacific Northwest.

“Hatcheries are a mitigation tool, but are not a substitute for habitat restoration and recovery plans,” said Spain. “This decision can be used to push us toward a world where salmon and steelhead are only found in hatchery, rather than in the wild. If taken to its extreme, this policy would amount to full retreat from salmon habitat protections.”

Spain noted that relying on hatcheries for salmon stock rebuilding is very dangerous, since many hatcheries have failed to restore salmon and steelhead runs. In addition, hatcheries are being defunded all of the time under several budget cuts of state fish and wildlife agencies. The Mad River Fish Hatchery on the North Coast is already in the process of being closed while the state’s other fish hatcheries are undergoing severe cutbacks, due to the state budget crisis.

Most alarming for recreational and commercial fishermen, Spain believes that the policy change could result in more fishing restrictions.

“The Bush administration is shifting the burden of recovery away from landowners to commercial and recreational fishermen,” he stated. “Under this policy, rather than providing more water in the rivers and protecting streams, we could see a time when the wild fish are abandoned to extinction. This policy shifts the burden to the victim rather than addressing the problem that causes salmon declines - the destruction of habitat and the loss of watersheds.”

In addition to Trout Unlimited and the PCFFA, opponents of the policy include the American Rivers, the National Wildlife Association, Water Watch of Oregon and Earthjustice.

Russ Brooks, managing attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, praised the new policy and said it would probably not result in more fishing restrictions since by combining hatchery and wild stocks, the runs would be considered healthier -- and not worthy of listing.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that the government will finally follow the law,” said Brooks. “The policy is still just pretty words on paper, but it will be interesting to see how it applies to the real world of listing decisions.”

Brooks argued that if the National Marine Fisheries Services counts both hatchery and wild stocks under the same “Evolutionarily Significant Units,” the salmon would be likely to be de-listed under the ESA.

“How can the service list millions of salmon -- with thousands of in almost every river -- as threatened or endangered? There will be so many fish that they can’t justify continue listing the fish.”

However, Brooks’ quote reveals exactly what is wrong with the decision -- this policy change combines robust hatchery stocks with wild fish that are still in decline or barely beginning to recover. To say that wild fish are essentially the same as hatchery fish, even though this totally conflicts with all of the peer-reviewed science, is a prime example of what a Scientific American editorial on April 26 describes as “Bush League Lysenkoism.”

Starting in the 1930’s, the Soviets spurned modern genetics in favor of Lysenkoism, a fraudulent theory of heredity inspired by Stalinist ideology. “Doing so crippled agriculture in the U.S.S.R. for decades,” the article stated. “You would think that bad precedent would have taught President George W. Bush something. But perhaps he is no better at history than at science.”

A large number of scientists recently concluded that a policy including hatchery fish alongside wild fish when determining the need for federal protections spells danger for wild stocks. In an independent report published in Science magazine on March 26, six of the world’s leading fish ecologists concluded that hatchery fish cannot be counted upon to save wild salmon stocks.

"Pacific salmon are under threat of being eliminated to make way for development,” said world-renowned ecologist Robert Paine, a coauthor of the report and Chairman of the panel. “We should not open the legal door to maintaining salmon only in hatcheries. The science is clear and unambiguous; as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks."

If the administration persists in its particularly repugnant modern brand of “Lysenkoism,” our salmon and steelhead populations are in big trouble. The only “science” that the Bush administration appears to believe in is “political science” that serves its buddies in agribusiness, timber corporations and the mining industry

When the policy is released officially in June, make sure that you participate in the public comment process to protest the adoption of fishery policy that abandons the restoration of wild salmon.

Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: danielbacher@hotmail.com.


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