May 29th, 2000

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Cost vs Yield of Pacific Hatchery Salmon

By Bill M. Bakke, Director Native Fish Society

Economist tells N.W. Power Planning Council salmon cost more to produce then their value to the region. At the April meeting of the Power Council, Dr. Hans Radtke presented information on the costs and benefits of hatchery salmon. According to Dr. Radtke hatchery fall chinook were the only species that cost less per returning adult than its value to the regional economy. His evaluation is based on a regional economic impact that includes the value of the fish to sport and commercial fisheries including Alaska through the Columbia River. This gives the fish a higher value than just the price the commercial fishermen get for their catch.

Dr. Radtke told Fish Letter that "If survival rates continue to be low, it doesn't make economic sense to raise fish in a hatchery, especially fish with longer freshwater life histories such as steelhead, coho, and spring and summer chinook. The public policy question is whether we want to continue to raise fish that cost up to $500 per fish to produce?" He said, "Legislators may have to make a choice between spending that subsidizes the fisheries or spend the available money on education and human health."

As an economist, Dr. Radtke said, "I can't tell the legislators what to do, I can only provide them with information such as a comparison of costs and values. Based on this report to the Power Planning Council the regional economic value per fall chinook is $46.36 compared a cost of $35.00 per fish; spring and summer chinook value is $38.62 compared to a cost of $404 per fish; coho value is $38 compared to a cost of $59; steelhead value is $26 compared to a cost of $293 per fish.

"The fish cost more if they are not harvested," says Bruce Suzumoto of the Power Council staff. This year the hatchery spring chinook salmon run is predicted to be 190,000, the largest run in over 20 years, but harvest is restricted because of the Endangered Species Act. Next year the run may be even larger.

Another factor affecting the cost- benefit of hatchery salmon is the increased market share of farmed salmon. At this time farmed salmon comprise about 50% of the world production, and this relatively inexpensive salmon has had a depressing effect on the price fishermen get for their catch.

Bruce Suzumoto said, "The fish in the river are worth a lot less than those caught in the ocean due to degraded quality of their flesh. The commercial value of fish caught in the river will continue to decline because they cannot compete with farmed salmon. There may be niche markets that could be developed as has been done for Copper River chinook and sockeye, and this would help sustain the price. But direct competition with Alaska and farmed salmon by inriver commercial salmon fisheries isn't likely."

The consequence of this is that hatchery produced salmon in the Columbia are likely to have decreasing value and the cost per adult produced is likely to increase.

Hatchery costs and benefits should be evaluated. This is needed to make informed decisions on production and harvest. But Bruce Suzumoto said, "It is just one of many things the Power Planning Council is trying to accomplish," and he noted that they had gotten 2,000 pages of amendments for the new fish and wildlife program, as an example of factors competing for Council attention. ~ Bill M. Bakke

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