The Idaho Conservation League and Filmfort sponsored a free screening of Patagonia’s “Artifishal” at Boise’s Idaho Mountain Touring on Monday, Oct. 21. About 150 people came out to watch the film and drink beer from Sockeye Brewing and eat free pizza from Americana Pizza and discuss what they saw with the film’s director and producer Josh “Bones” Murphy. Thanks to all who came out and made this event possible. 

Artifishal is a hard hitting and very provocative film. We at ICL think it’s important to provide context on why we sponsored the screening. 

ICL works on salmon recovery in a number of ways. We talk a lot about dam removal because we’ve concluded based on the best available science that removing the four lower Snake River dams is a necessary piece of any credible plan to restore Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead to ecologically healthy, sustainable and abundant numbers. But, dam removal isn’t the only thing we need to consider.

Things killing our fish. We call them the 4 H’s and an O and a P:

  • Hydro System (dams) – impede and create hostile reservoir conditions for young and adult fish.
  • Habitat – we need sufficient, high quality habitat for various life stages (birth, spawning, etc.) and Idaho has one of the best habitats for wild salmon and steelhead anywhere on Earth.
  • Harvest (fishing/angling) – we need good harvest management – commercial and recreational.
  • Hatcheries – hatchery genetics can diminish wild genetics; hatchery fish are typically less resilient and adaptive, and compete with wild fish for food and other resources, etc.
  • Ocean Conditions – cyclical and worsening due to climate change.
  • Predators – predator fish in reservoirs, birds and sea mammals.

We need to think about all of these things impacting our fish. Artifishal is about only one of the six factors we outlined – Hatcheries. Again, Artifishal is a hard hitting and very provocative film. We hope it starts important discussions, not ends them. If we are going to find solutions to bring back Idaho’s fish we have to start talking about all of the 4 Hs.

As we start having these discussions, we want to make sure they are done in a way that invites people in, not shuts people out. People have very strong opinions about fishing and in Idaho, where wild fish are spiraling towards extinction, the only steelhead and salmon fishing opportunities available are for hatchery fish. Some may think asking questions about the role hatcheries play in the decline of wild fish is an attack on fishing in Idaho. That’s not the point here.

If the way that hatcheries are run harms wild salmon and steelhead from returning to Idaho, I think all anglers would want to be part of the discussion. We need to make clear the role hatcheries have played in conserving Idaho sockeye and coho. Without conservation hatchery programs for these fish, there would be no sockeye or coho in Idaho. Let’s not allow a discussion about hatcheries to be taken out of context and twisted into arguments that challenge the intentions or integrity of the good, committed people working in hatcheries all across Idaho. These folks care as deeply about salmon and steelhead as any of us.

As Idahoans start really talking about hatcheries, let’s remember how few adult hatchery steelheads are returning to Idaho. This year, the season for hatchery steelhead has been shut down on the Clearwater River. Millions of hatchery fish are being released every year in Idaho and it’s clearly not working. We’ve invested plenty of time and millions of dollars in our hatcheries and we’re not restoring wild fish and we are not even getting enough returning hatchery fish to support the sort of fishing seasons that Idahoans want and deserve. This is complicated stuff and it’s charged with emotion. We hope this film starts the discussion about the future rule that hatcheries will play in Idaho. 

Ultimately, our goal is to restore abundant wild runs of steelhead and salmon in Idaho that are capable of supporting robust harvest opportunities here in Idaho. When we succeed and that happens, a discussion of the role of hatcheries in the decline of wild runs will no longer be necessary.