L. Neil Smith's
Number 75, June 5, 2000

Salmon Slayers

Environmental nuttiness in the northwest

by By James J. Odle

Special to TLE

For the last dozen years or so, I have been a keen observer of the political scene. Or so I like to think. Few things surprise me. In the process of such observation, I have learned that politicians and their minions are capable of anything.

Still, every once in a while, I hear about something so lunatic that I am compelled to step outside and take a gander at the night sky. Yep the Big Dipper is still there. There's Orion and his belt not to mention the Pleiades within the constellation Taurus. All's right with the heavens and the Law of Gravity is still intact. Therefore I'm OK. I have a Scwarzeneggerian grip on reality. My feet are planted firmly on Planet Earth. So, what could cause me to check my bearings?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have some bad news. Employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife [ODFW] people who live off of our tax dollars and who are supposed to be managing our natural resources for our benefit have been clubbing salmon. They have also been shuttling salmon smolts off into pools where they are being electrocuted. Also, in an era of persistent decline in the salmon populations, they are shutting down hatcheries. I kid you not. And they are doing this with the blessings of the National Marine Fishery Service and the Clinton Administration.

So what is going on?

This story begins with a gentleman by the name of Ronald Yechout of Philomath, Oregon.

In late 1998, Mr. Yechout was out elk hunting near the Fall Creek Hatchery in the Alsea River Basin when he came across the killings. After witnessing these fish and game types clubbing salmon with baseball bats, he was stunned. Then he was outraged.

"It made me madder than hell," he said. "All we hear, over and over, is our fish are going extinct. The fish aren't going extinct. The state is out there, killing them by the thousands."

Fortunately, he retained sufficient presence of mind to capture the killings on film.

Now the critical reader will be thinking that this is a hatchery operation and that it is standard operating procedure to kill the salmon in order to harvest the eggs so that they may be artificially inseminated. Well, the eggs are being harvested and then sold as fish bait. The salmon carcasses are then sold for cat food. Incredibly, ODFW claims that the eggs from 'hatchery' salmon are not needed to repopulate the species.

So why isn't ODFW artificially inseminating the eggs?

According to Doug DeHart who is chief of fisheries for ODFW ...

The salmon-killing that Yechout witnessed...stems exclusively from the state's desire to protect wild fish from hatchery fish. None were killed for breeding a deed that Yechout endorses as the state in 1977 decided to close Fall Creek Hatchery. The hatchery was built to supply fish for sport and commercial harvest and had become unnecessary. Fishing restrictions to protect wild coho salmon were blocking any harvest of hatchery fish.

Hatchery fish ... can hurt wild fish by competing for their food and habitat. Hatchery fish are poorly adapted to life in the wild, state fish biologists believe, saying they mistake a hawk's shadow as a prompt to rise and feed, for example. Such habits, if passed on as behavior traits in wild fish, can lead to an overall decline in salmon numbers.

Also, according to Joel Gallob, a reporter for the Newport News Times:

The claimed basis for the killing was that the hatchery fish are genetically and behaviorally inferior to the wild fish, and that at the same time, they return to land to spawn before the wild ones do (largely because of the way ODFW originally timed the releases), out-competing the wild ones for the best gravel beds.

Thus killing them made sense as a way of avoiding a weakening of the wild coho. ODFW opponents, though, argued that given the few coho left, the important thing was to use all the coho available, including hatchery ones, to rebuild the species.

Does this theory sound reasonable? Yechout doesn't think so. He believes that the government has a hidden agenda that requires that salmon remain scarce. That way, they have a guaranteed access to millions of tax-payer dollars to fund salmon restoration efforts and they acquire a reason to impose stiff stream-protection rules on land owners.

What is wrong with this picture?

The salmonoid begins its life as a fingerling hatched from an egg laid in the cool tranquil tributaries of the various northwest river systems. From there, it obeys its first biological imperative and begins a perilous journey, downstream, toward the open ocean. If it is lucky, it will survive the predations of the trout, the bass, the terns, hawks and other critters. It must bypass dams, together with turbines, rocks and shoals before it reaches the open ocean.

It will spend an average of 2-3 years, growing and evading ocean-going predators before it encounters its next biological imperative. It will reverse the process, and return to the very stream bed (or hatchery) where it began to spawn. When it reenters fresh water, it will begin to die. Its mouth will begin to distort and its biochemistry goes completely haywire.

Allow me to make the following points:

1. A fish that is close to death, come spawning time, can not out-compete other salmon who are in the same fix. It is all that the fish can do to spawn and lay its eggs. Then it dies. Do you seriously think that dying salmonoids engage in mortal combat for those prime gravel beds? Dying fish can't be choosy.

2. Since perhaps 1-2% of the smolts survive this arduous life-cycle, only to return to the very same spot where they hatched, the salmonoid naturally has limited genetic diversity.

3. A smolt made of inferior genetic stock or which has inferior behavioral traits such as mistaking a 'hawk's shadow as a prompt to rise and feed' will be eaten and not survive to pass on its genes. Hence, evolution in action.

4. The only thing artificial about the hatchery operation is the actual insemination process. Once properly inseminated and released to the wild, the smolt must survive all the hazards that a so-called 'wild' salmon must survive. If it succeeds, then it can be safely assumed to be just as viable as a 'wild' salmon. Furthermore, since there have been hatchery operations in the northwest since 1908, there is an extremely high probability that 'hatchery' salmon and 'wild' salmon all come from the same eggs. In fact, it is impossible to tell a 'hatchery' fish from a 'wild' fish unless the 'hatchery' fish has had a fin snipped at some time in its life. In short, 'hatchery' and 'wild' fish are the same fish.

5. Haven't any of these biologists ever heard of Charles Darwin survival of the fittest natural selection? How do they expect those salmon with the strongest survival traits to survive and pass on their genes when they close hatcheries and remove the remaining salmon from the game before they have the chance to spawn?

6. Doctor Bill Wattenburg of KGO radio, San Francisco, has had an open invitation to any scientist from the ODFW or the National Marine Service to come on his radio show and state their case, provided they bring the scientific evidence to support their position. So far, no one has taken him up on his offer.

Enter Oregonians in Action

I am not the only one who feels that clubbing salmon and closing hatcheries during a salmon shortage is the heighth of idiocy. A group called North Pacific Research in conjunction with Oregonians in Action has a few sharp criticisms of their own. Lets begin with their historical perspective.

Lewis and Clark

Residents of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho have long complained about the lack of salmon in the Snake and Clearwater Rivers which feed the Columbia River. The National Marine Fisheries and Wildlife Services blame the shortage on dams, turbines, logging, heavy metals, and other human interventions.

If this theory is correct, then Lewis and Clark, who were charged by a Presidential Commission with the task of exploring the northwest and recording its natural wonders should have born witness to a plentitude of leaping salmon. Consider, they conducted their explorations before the white man arrived with his logging operations and high technology. These rivers were then in their pristine, unmolested [by man] condition.

Yet, these intrepid explorers came close to starving to death. They were reduced to eating dried salmon, roots, horse and dog meat. Their journals record eating only six salmon. They reached Celilo Falls, a choke point on the Columbia River, on October 22, 1805. If the belief in the pristine nature of early nineteenth century rivers is correct, they should have been able to see 12 salmon a second leaping up the falls night and day for 10 ? 12 weeks. Yet their journals record little about salmon.

Here's another possible explanation for the shortage of fish in the Snake and Clearwater Rivers in the early 1800s. It is approximately 400 river miles from the mouth of the Columbia River to Lewiston, Idaho. That's 400 miles of rapids, against a swift current, which may be an exhausting trip for a dying fish.


Human beings are not the only critters that prey on salmon. There are over 62 different species such as walleye, catfish, sturgeon, tuna, gulls, terns, hawks, seals, otters and sea lions. And because some of these species such as terns and sea otters are on the Endangered Species List they are protected and so, their populations are increasing. For example, the sea otter population has grown from approximately 2000 individuals in 1911 to 160,000 by the mid-seventies. The sea lion population has shown a similar growth rate.

Now, the Army Corp of Engineers has built an artificial island in the Columbia River which is inhabited by terns [another endangered species] seals, sea lions. Together, these species feed on over 200 million fish a year. There is, indeed, an over-fishing of salmonoids. But this over-fishing is being done by species other than human. Food supply and river habitat. Salmonoids are not the only fish species in decline. Anchovies, sardines and hake are also diminishing. Since these last three species do not enter fresh water, it is unlikely that river habitat is to blame. So a possible explanation involves the warming of the Pacific Ocean and greenhouse gases. However, there have not been adequate studies of this problem that takes into account the entire life cycle of the salmonoid. Also, global warming is not yet accepted as scientific fact among most scientists.

Shoddy research.

Here are few comments taken from the report 'Saving Salmon' from North Pacific Research:

Saving salmon should not be left to guessing or biological opinion as to the cause of the decline. There is a big difference between the number one answer and fact. Good science starts with sound assumptions and moves to a logical conclusion based on observed facts and examination of all possible hypotheses. Many individual studies on salmon restoration are based on sound scientific principles.

However, the large body of science that exists is almost entirely made up of various studies that focus on habitat degradation. These studies have shown that dams, river flow patterns, organic and sediment input, riparian habitats, migrational impediments, dissolved gas levels, pesticides, and industrial and municipal waste all degrade salmon habitat. However, degradation is not an absolute variable ...

Whereas a few individual studies, are flawed, the major flaw occurs in the over all body of the work. The science is not yet at a stage where cause and effect connections can be made. Flawed science means, incomplete research, lack of objectivity and substitution of opinion for fact ...

To date most of the science behind salmon restoration is directed at the effects of human activities in the river habitat...Fortunately there are a growing number of scientists who realize that the issue also concerns oceans, weather, food supply and predator populations. If we are going to understand the salmon puzzle we need to identify all the pieces and connect them correctly ...

Lack of objectivity shows in the type of studies performed and the lack of looking at alternative, valid explanations. There are a preponderance of studies that support the notion that human activities caused the decline in salmon and few that detract from that idea. Where are the studies to show the positive effects of dams on salmon population? To simply assume there are none is too naive and not good science ...

Good science lets the facts lead to the truth rather than the hypotheses under consideration lead to predetermined conclusions... There are two basic approaches to scientific study, one where the investigators try to prove themselves right and another where they try to prove themselves wrong. It is easier to maintain objectivity using the approach of trying to prove the theory under question wrong. In science, wrong is more powerful than right. For example, if the theory is proved right 100 times and proved wrong once, the theory needs to be revised to accommodate the new data.

There are many credible alternative reasons for the decline in the salmon population. For example, an increase in number of predators, a decrease in food supply or changes in ocean conditions may have caused the decline in salmon numbers. To ignore the effects of these alternatives is flawed science at its worst ...

Soft science contains words like possibly, we think, in our opinion, could be, may be, and so on. Soft science is not science at all; it is more like propaganda and should be avoided. Science needs to deal in facts and only facts...

Watermelon Alert!

Beep! Beep! Beep! Now here this! Now here this! The Watermelons are coming! The Watermelons are coming! Wait a minute. What am I talking about? The Watermelons are already here!!

Those who pay close attention to political matters know that our nation's environmental policies are driven by the Watermelons. Specifically, I am talking about the upper echelon of our government agencies together with the more far out members of the Sierra Club and other like minded environmental groups. I am not talking about the rank and file of either of these two groups. These elitists are socialists who, because of the failure of socialism worldwide, have found it necessary to conceal their socialistic agenda within an environmental wrapper. [Red{ski} on the inside and green on the outside.] Socialism is taken seriously as a viable economic system only among high government officials, college professors and the Hollyweird.

Let us understand the kind of people we are dealing with here. We are talking about Gaea loving, tree hugging, Earth worshippers who hate capitalism, hate mankind, hate human progress and who have a vision of life in an idyllic setting of trees, birds, together with pristine, running water, absent cars, absent radios, televisions or any other signs of technology. They rail against nuclear power, drive spikes into trees and sue developers over water-filled puddles. They want to ban Americans from using their parks such as Yosemite National Park. They want to tear out the dams on the Columbia, Snake, Clearwater and Colorado Rivers. They live in an irrational fog of guilt. They worship government, when in he hands of the politically correct, in much the same way that Clinton worships an intern. If they had their way, this country would become a third world nation. This is the real purpose of the Kyoto Treaty.

Their chief spokesman is that great environmental hypocrite VP Al Gore. Clinton gave Gore the task of heading up his environmental policies. He achieved this status, probably as a result of authoring Earth in the Balance. So you would think that Gore might care about the environment. Well, he probably does.

He cares more, though, about obtaining political power. Do you want proof? It has been known since 1993 that MTBE does nothing to make the air we breath any cleaner. Science {3 July 1993, summary page 37}. Gore has long been aware of this but has done nothing to inculcate this knowledge within the EPA's environmental policies. It is only recently, that the EPA has announced a three-year phase out of MTBE from our gasoline. They are still claiming that it helps clean the air, however. They probably don't want to be sued.

These are the kind of people who imposed strict land use controls on private property owners because of the Northern Spotted Owl even though the Mexican Spotted Owl is the same damn bird. Obviously, these Watermelons will seize any opportunity available to wrest control over private property away from the private sector.

Meanwhile the bureaucrats have not been permitted to continue their operations absent any public scrutiny. The Pacific Legal Foundation has brought lawsuits against both the ODFW and the National Marine Fisheries Service in an attempt to block the salmon slaughter. They lost round one against the ODFW. But the suit against the National Marine Fisheries Services is still pending.


It is difficult to know why the salmon are in decline. Perhaps it is because of human interventions such as damns, pesticides and logging. On the other hand, the warming of the Pacific Ocean and the corresponding reduction in available food supply may account for it. Then again, maybe we humans, because of our own growing numbers, have irrational expectations as to what proper number of salmon should be. One thing we can be sure of. There is definitely a fishy smell coming from the northwest.


"Saving Salmon," North Pacific Research, Oregonians in Action, http://www.oia.org/pages/salmon.html

Short article on terns feeding on salmon, http://www.oia.org/pages/news005.html

"Call to Action," Oregonians in Action, http://www.oia.org/pages/news001.html

"Questions," Oregonians in Action, http://www.oia.org/pages/news004.html

"Clubbing of salmon unleashes outrage, The Oregonian, March 4, 2000, http://www.oregonlive.com/news/00/03/st030404.html

"New danger to Endangered Species Act Implementation for coho salmon," BY JOEL GALLOB [posted.10.26.99], an internet post, http://www.tidepool.org/gallob.html

Lawsuit of ALSEA VALLEY ALLIANCE and MARK SEHL, Plaintiffs v. t OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION; OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE; and JAMES W. GREER, Director of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, all in their official capacities, Defendants, http://www.pacificlegal.org/alc-pa.htm

"Media Advisory," Pacific Legal Foundation, January 9, 2000, http://www.pacificlegal.org/alseama.htm

Lawsuits filed to halt government killing of coho salmon, http://www.pacificlegal.org/alcea.htm

"Court Denies Relief...," Media Advisory, Pacific Legal Foundation, November 12, 1999, http://www.pacificlegal.org/pr-alse2.htm

Links to RealAudio files are available at ... one shows the clubbing and there is another with Doctor Bill Wattenburg discussing the situation on his radio show

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