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Farmed vs. Naturally Bred Salmon of the Same Species

Since the beginning of 2002, the American ecologists have been obsessed with the need to decide, whether hatchery fish could replenish the natural fish populations under the treat of extinction. The public debate for and against the hatchery and genetically modified fish has brought both parties of the issue to the court. The proponents and opponents of hatchery fish based their arguments on Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Act requires determining the critical habitat of the endangered or threatened species on the basis of the best available scientific evidence.

However, neither proponents nor opponents of hatchery fish seem to be satisfied with the current situation. The problem is in that science lacks evident proofs for either safety or threats of hatchery or genetically modified fish and their impact on the wild fish populations. On February 4, 2002, Sam Howe Verhovek published his article in the New York Times. The article referred to the problems of natural fish populations in Pacific Northeast waters, and the solutions which hatchery fish could offer to the local natural environment and the farmers.

“Because the wild and hatchery salmon are of the same species, they are at the heart of a legal battle over the issue of extinction” (Verhovek, 2002). The debate stemmed from the inability to determine the exact legal and environmental boundaries for protecting the wild salmon in Oregon coastal range. Verhovek (2002) was very objective in his evaluation, and the central question of his journalistic research was “what is the difference between wild fish and hatchery ones? ” Six years have passed, but this question still lacks proper and scientifically grounded answer.

The Oregon case to which Verhovek (2002) referred has generated the need for Bush administration to re-consider and review all state listings for the endangered groups of Pacific salmon and steelhead (Verhovek, 2002). Simultaneously, the lack of the reasonable boundaries for fish protection has led to the misbalance between nature and economic needs of the local population: farmers of the Klamath River Basin were denied the right for irrigation. Endangered Species Act of 1973 has not led the parties to any agreement, and the debate has smoothly grown to touch the issues of genetically modified fish.

U. S. faults on assessing altered fish and “only wild fish matter in endangered count” Endangered Species Act has lost its relevance in the new age of genetically modified plants and species. The essence of the Act is in determining “whether any species is an endangered species or a threatened species because of any of the following factors: (A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes, etc” (ESA, 1973).

On the one hand, we face a collision between our unawareness of the biological properties of hatchery and genetically modified fish and our inability to properly interpret the basic provisions of ESA. “We seem to be trading in uncharted legal waters” (Pollack, 2003). This is the case with both hatchery and genetically modified fish. ESA directly refers to the threat of “modification” as a criterion for determining the endangered status of species. That means that the Act directly prohibits genetic engineering that threatens natural wild fish species.

It is unclear, whether the contemporary legal environment can give place to genetic engineering against the Act, to promote fish farming, produce human drugs, and maintain the natural water balance. Some scientific researches suggest that genetically modified fish could threaten natural fish populations, but until we possess relevant scientific knowledge, we will not be able to decide, whether we can successfully use genetically modified fish to restore wild fish populations. On the other hand, we face an even more difficult problem of distinguishing between the wild and hatchery fish about which Verhovek (2002) wrote.

There is no evidence that hatchery fish is genetically modified. Theoretically, hatchery fish species are absolutely similar to those in wild water habitat. According to ESA, “the Secretary may […] treat any species as an endangered species or threatened species […] if he finds that such species so closely resembles in appearance, at the point in question, a species which has been listed pursuant to such section that enforcement personnel would have substantial difficulty in attempting to differentiate between the listed and unlisted species.

” (ESA, 1973) Does that mean that the law requires us equally protecting hatchery and wild fish due to their biological similarity? No, that does not, and the recent court decision has “nullified a Bush administration policy that counts hatchery fish along with wild fish when making decisions about which species should be protected under the Endangered Species Act” (Barringer, 2007). As a result of this decision, we have a clear distinction between the hatchery and the wild fish populations.

The supporters of ecological balance require further strengthening “legal protections and accountability for wild salmon” (Barringer, 2007), but the discussed court decisions have not resolved a dilemma: is it really good or bad to grow hatchery fish to replace wild populations and to maintain the natural balance of water? The question will remain open until we possess and analyze the most relevant and the most reliable scientific information. We are trying to use the norms of ESA (1973), but these norms are irrelevant and useless unless they are applied to the most recent and objective scientific evidence.

In the desire to promote our environmental or economic interests, we promote nothing but misbalanced legal approaches to nature. The application of ESA (1973) is the second, and not the first stage of resolving wild vs. hatchery fish issues. ESA (1973) application requires proper understanding of the benefits and threats of genetically modified salmon. ESA application requires better knowledge of how hatchery species differ from wild salmon. In our legal blindness, we have not been able to protect the wild salmon population, but have already undermined the economic stability of Oregon farmers.

We need a different vision of the current situation. Certainly, we cannot neglect environmental problems. We must maintain the natural concentration of salmon species in the American waters. However, we have not yet arrived to a single environmental method that would suit everyone. Law is not the central problem; science and scientific unawareness are the roots of the current environment debate. Law is the prism through which scientific evidence should be analyzed and interpreted. To provide hatchery and genetically modified fish with a certain legal status, we should primarily pay attention to what scientific status these fish hold.

Are they biologically similar to each other? Are hatchery fish dangerous to the wild salmon populations? Can we effectively grow genetically modified fish to replenish the disappearing natural salmon populations? These questions require immediate answer. This scientific knowledge will help determine the exact boundaries of legal environmental protection, which will not harm the farmers and will promote stable ecological balance in the local natural environment. Conclusion In the “hatchery vs. wild fish” debate, numerous questions remain unanswered.

We lack scientific evidence as for whether wild and hatchery fish are biologically similar to each other. It remains unclear, whether hatchery fish can be referred to as genetically modified species, and how these species impact other fish populations. We evidently have to address environmental issues, but we cannot use law as the means of developing new environmental methodology. Lawyers and courts cannot decide, whether hatchery fish and wild fish populations are different from each other; science should direct the research and initiative to find the resolution which will suit everyone.

Meanwhile, we are trying to satisfy at least one of the conflict parties, further undermining the economic stability of the farmers, and the environmental stability of fish habitats. References Barringer, F. (2007). Only wild fish matter in ‘Endangered’ count, Judge rules. The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from http://www. nytimes. com/2007/06/14/washington/14fish. html? _r=1&scp=1&sq=endangered+species+act+fish&st=nyt&oref=slogin Endangered Species Act. (1973). National Marine Fisheries Service.

Retrieved June 11, 2008 from http://www. nmfs. noaa. gov/pr/pdfs/laws/esa. pdf Pollack, A. (2003). Study faults U. S. on assessing altered fish. The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from http://query. nytimes. com/gst/fullpage. html? res=9D06E6DF1031F936A25752C0A9659C8B63 Verhovek, S. H. (2002). ‘Saving’ wild salmon’s bucket-born cousins. The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from http://query. nytimes. com/gst/fullpage. html? res=9C0DE0D9133DF937A35751C0A9649C8B63

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