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Medred: If Prince William Sound is a salmon ranch, what's the problem?

Craig Medred | Dec 25, 2011

Fears of some state fisheries biologists that turning Prince William Sound into one big, salmon ranch might threaten the remaining wild stocks there gained some weight this week. Oregon researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the genes of steelhead trout -- a close relative -- appear easily altered in a hatchery.
Mark Christie, lead researcher on the work done at Oregon State University, painted a portrait of "evolution at warp speed" in the sterile, environmentally controlled trays of a hatchery.
"It's similar to the process by which wolves were transformed into dogs," he told MSNBC. "That's all that's occurring here, except it's occurring at a really rapid time scale."
Whether the 11,000-square-mile Sound -- smeared by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 -- should be home to piscatorial wolves or dogs has been a subject of debate for years now between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association (PWSAA).
"Our obligation to manage wild (salmon) stocks in Prince William Sound is very challenged at current levels of population," state scientists warned in an April 2010 memorandum. "Department … studies suggest that at current (hatchery) production levels, hatchery salmon straying may pose an unacceptable risk to wild salmon stocks."
Essentially every wild salmon-spawning stream in the Sound has now been infiltrated by straying hatchery salmon. Contrary to popular perception, salmon don't all return to their natal streams, and pink salmon -- one of the major species ranched in the Sound -- are famous for......