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Alaska salmon hatcheries under attack by Canadian conservationists

Craig Medred

For years Alaska fishermen have been attacking Canadian fish farms over fears that some of their salmon could escape pens and mix with wild fish in the Pacific Ocean. Now, those Alaska fishermen have come under attack from Canadians who say the billions of salmon dumped into the ocean by commercial-fishermen-controlled hatcheries in Alaska are making a mess of the ecosystem.

"Alaskan ocean ranching and hatchery operations release billions of farm-raised fish into natural eco-systems and wild salmon populations," said Aaron Hill, a biologist with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society told the Vancouver Sun newspaper in British Columbia, Canada. "There is increasing scientific concern about the effect that flooding the North Pacific with these fish is having on wild salmon populations." 

The Society is one of three Canadian conservation groups appealing to the Marine Stewardship Council to lift eco-certifications for Alaska salmon. Council's certification that fish come from sustainable and environmentally sound fisheries is thought to carry considerable market influence with environment and health conscious consumers. In the 49th state, no salmon spend their entire lives in pens, but billions are spawned in hatcheries and some of them are raised to a smolt size of 3 or 4 inches before being released into the wild.

Alaska and Japan are world leaders among the several countries and North American states that now dump a total of about 5 billion hatchery salmon into the ocean each year. Some ecologists contend such massive manipulation of the natural environment has to produce ecological shifts, although those have been hard to identify.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com