Are hatchery origin salmon weaker?

There are those who are concerned that hatchery-produced salmon are ‘weaker’ than ‘wild’ fish. Technically this is statement is true, but it is a very small part of the story.  Let’s examine some facts.

In a wild river situation, one can expect about 5% of eggs successfully laid to produce smolt that make it to the salt water. In a hatchery setting (protecting the eggs, protecting, and feeding the fry until release as smolt) this figure typically exceeds 85%. Yes, this results in the ‘survival of the mediocre’, resulting in adults that are slightly less fecund (produce perhaps 10% fewer eggs).

But bear in mind another fact: 80% of salmon caught in Washington State are of hatchery origin. If hatchery production was to stop, can we trust the prevailing economic, cultural and ecological pressures to preserve that last 20% of ‘wild’ fish? Hatcheries serve a vital role to meet tribal, commercial, and recreational harvest opportunities and commitments.