Hatchery-Reared Salmon Not a Bad Idea

Hatchery-Reared salmon doesn’t mean smaller fish

By Michael Field-Dodgson

I read a lot of comments on why the salmon runs have dwindled and the size of those salmon caught is smaller. One significant variable that negatively impacts the salmon which no one has mentioned is the impact of Homo sapiens………the angler. In this article, we take another look at hatchery-reared salmon.

I have been involved with the salmon resource since 1975 whilst a freshwater fisheries scientist at MAF. I used to go up and help the lads who managed the salmon trap on the Glenariffe stream at the headwaters of the Rakaia.

From the early eighties onwards, the increase in the popularity of salmon fishing was quite clear as we travelled regularly to and from the Glenariffe Trap.

It must be remembered that the annual adult salmon runs on the east coast are traditionally very variable. Runs through the Glenariffe Trap varied from the low hundreds to the low thousands, so the impact of the angler on escapement in some years would be big.

It is thought one reason for the variability of the salmon adult runs is the extent to which the Southland current moves up the East Coast.

This is a cold current, and salmon is basically a cold-water fish so the Southland Current could have some effect on the size of the runs.

This may explain why the more northern rivers like the Hurunui and Waiau have pretty scratchy runs.

For example, in 1985 there were salmon everywhere, even some as far as Kaikoura. The Hurunui and the Waiau had good runs. Eight thousand fish returned to the Glenariffe Stream, of which half had started life as Smolt released from Glenariffe. Apparently, the Southland Current was north of Banks Peninsular that year.

One other reason for the poor or “fragile” runs lately, in my opinion, is weak management by the Acclimatisation Societies and later on the Fish and Game Councils.

One Fish and Game Manager were quoted as saying they were following a strategy of “Passive Management” whatever the hell that is.

I mean simple measures like reducing the daily limit, managing the upstream limits on fishing, and reducing the length of the season would have been worthwhile – though probably not very popular!!

Another would have been to cancel the fishing competitions. If anyone thing was going to impact salmon numbers returning to spawn in years of poor runs then the competitions would do it.

No strategic action was taken to manage the runs when it was necessary so today things aren’t particularly rosy.

Then we have the stupid debate about the release of hatchery-reared fish being bad for the fishery.

Hatchery-Reared Salmon

A fisherman, whoops sorry angler or fisher, buys a licence for the sole purpose of being allowed to catch a salmonid. Well, that’s what I thought. Then you get the comments from anglers that hatchery fish are no good, they are too small – which by the way is nonsense – the biggest fish we had through the trap was a hen, nearly a meter long and weighing 17.6 kgs (37lbs) with no adipose fin meaning she was hatchery-reared. When she left the sea she probably would have been 20+ kgs (see pic).

OK bolstering the wild run with hatchery smolt is expensive, but it does work. I mean ask the people at Silverstream hatchery what percentage of fish returning there have no adipose fin – you will get a shock!

So then we get the balmy policy from Fish and Game that it is better to rely on the wild run with pure genetics to further develop the salmon fishery – hatchery releases are unsound and pollute the genetic base.

I don’t know where this dopey idea came from but it is ridiculous for anyone to think that relying on the wild run will get the salmon fishery back to the glory days. I guess this is an example of passive management…….Oh, I forgot……..they were allowed to plant eggs and release Smolt but only in areas where salmon had never been……a bit like releasing polar bears in the tropics…….

I do often wonder why the anti stocking policy arose, and if I was a cynical person I would think it might be because the Fish and Game people can’t afford it. Hatchery-reared salmon is more expensive to produce than wild-run fish.

The cost of the salmonid fishing licence in New Zealand is too cheap. Why do I say that? Well go back 50-60 years and find out the cost of a licence, then convert it to today’s dollars.

In the 1970s the licence price wasn’t linked to inflation, in fear of the angler objecting and licence sales plummeting ……

Of course with all anadromous fish, the number of variables impacting their survival is pretty well known during the freshwater phase, but in the ocean, it is anybody’s guess.

Personally, I think the spring-fed spawning areas I am conversant with in Canterbury seem to be in pretty good shape.

This post was last modified on 14/03/2024 3:37 pm

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