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Endangered Fish Farming

Hatchery Salmon To Count As Wildlife

The Bush administration has decided to count hatchery-bred fish, which are pumped into West Coast rivers by the hundreds of millions yearly, when it decides whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This represents a major change in the federal government's approach to protecting Pacific salmon -- a $700 million-a-year effort that it has described as the most expensive and complicated of all attempts to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

I'm cautious about jumping to the conclusion that this is merely an underhanded ploy to wiggle out of environmental obligations. Certainly the Bush administration has given me no justification for giving them the benefit of the doubt in environmental issues, and many of the people in favor of the change have a vested interest in relaxed environmental standards. Nevertheless, from a literal understanding of endangered species protection, counting hatchery fish makes sense. If the point of the ESA is to keep species from dying out, then it's obvious that that goal is being met when fish are able to be bred in large quantities in captivity.

But, as I've argued before, I don't think merely preserving a species is a justification for the ESA. Extinction serves as a proxy for the functioning of ecosystem services. So the important question is not whether there are enough fish, but whether the ecosystem is in good enough working order that the fish can survive in the wild.


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