Consider this a confession. My headline last week, “Vandals behind fish caper,” really didn’t do the story justice. As I thought about it, after the pages had gone to press, I realized that those four words didn’t fit the unusual situation that happened May 13 at the Tokul Creek fish hatchery near Snoqualmie.
For starters, “vandals” implies that the breach of the fish ponds at Tokul was senseless. The loosing of 25,000 juvenile steelhead on the other hand, was deliberate and precise. Someone cut the locks and pulled the screens on purpose to release these fish into the Snoqualmie watershed.
Why would someone do this? Under a court decree, the hatchery is no longer able to release winter steelhead into the Snoqualmie. The decision is connected to a lawsuit in which scientists say the state’s hatchery-raised fish are a negative, competitive force against the natural, wild fish, so practices must change.
Tokul Creek usually releases 150,000 fish each spring. All together, the WDFW hatcheries release about 750,000 Chambers Creek steelhead into local rivers annually, but none of them will this year, as part of a department effort to avoid a lawsuit.
The suit, filed March 31 by the Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy, claims the state's hatchery programs not only don't improve the numbers of wild fish in the area, but also have contributed to the population decline of the state's wild steelhead, listed as an endangered species since 2007.
Ponder that. What does it mean if most of the fish in our watersheds are born in a hatchery? Are our rivers truly wild anymore? Should we sacrifice wild fish in order to support a human-raised population?
Last month's act was a deliberate attempt to put these human-raised fish into the local river, shortly before they were set to be trucked out of the area. It seems that somebody with knowledge of exactly what was going on with these fish decided they needed to go into their home waters. It’s being investigated as a crime.
In our weekly police blotter, we often see people smashing and grabbing for personal gain. What was the gain here? If someone wanted to loose these fish to ensure local steelhead run, that logic, if the above lawsuit is anything to go by, runs counter to the health and future of our truly wild fish.
We’ll have to wait two years, when roughly one out of every 100 of these juveniles will return from the sea, for the epilogue. Maybe, 250 fish will return. It's not a huge number, perhaps, but still enough to flaunt an agreement meant to protect the real, wild runs that are our heritage.