The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Carson National Fish Hatchery, located in Carson, Wash., recently transferred nearly 250,000 spring chinook pre-smolts (juvenile salmon nearly ready to migrate to the ocean) to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The transfer continues a six-year partnership to re-establish a salmon run in the Walla Walla River that was extirpated for eighty years until 2005, when the USFWS/Umatilla Tribe reintroduction program began.
Willard NFH in Cook, Wash., has already transferred 490,000 coho salmon in pre-smolt stages to eight different Yakama Indian Nation acclimation sites, including the Leavenworth NFH in the Wenatchee and Methow river basins in central Washington. These rivers are tributaries of the Columbia River, and the work undertaken by the Service and the Yakama Nation are part of a larger Mid-Columbia River Coho Reintroduction Program. The last coho transfer to the Yakama Indian Nation occurred on Thursday, April 14.
The rearing of locally adapted Mid-Columbia (Wenatchee Basin) coho began 10 years ago when Willard NFH first received eggs collected from adults returning to the Wenatchee River.
“The long term project vision is to restore coho salmon to the Wenatchee and Methow river systems at biologically sustainable levels that will support harvest in most years,” said Steve Wingert, manager at Willard NFH.
“The [fish we raise] contribute towards development of locally adapted, naturally spawning coho populations in the Wenatchee and Methow Subbasins.”
Spring chinook from Carson NFH will be directly released into the South Fork of the Walla Walla River by the end of this week in order to maximize survival and minimize impacts to listed fish in the River.
“We used to release the fish around the first week of April or end of March,” said Brian Zimmerman, a fisheries biologist with the Confederated Tribes’ Department of Natural Resources. A program change initiated this year to defer release of the fish by a couple weeks will result in quicker outmigration, Zimmerman noted, adding that this decision was agreed to by the Confederated Tribes and the Service.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is also a partner in the Walla Walla Spring Chinook Restoration Program and provided transportation support when the fish were relocated
The program is funded under the Mitchell Act by NOAA-Fisheries.
Bonneville Power Administration funding supports the coho reintroduction effort. The Service’s Olympia Fish Health Center monitors the health of the coho eggs while they incubate at Winthrop and Leavenworth NFHs.
Service hatcheries, such as Willard NFH, have been working closely with the Yakama Nation since 1991 to restore coho salmon populations in Upper Columbia River tributaries like the Wenatchee and Methow Rivers. The project partners hope that these populations will someday reach biologically sustainable levels that will support tribal, commercial and sport fish harvests. A key program component is to reintroduce fish that have been derived from locally-adapted fish stocks, also known as ‘broodstocks.’
Coho raised at Willard NFH originated from eggs collected by Yakama Indian Nation biologists at various locations in their rivers of origin. The eggs were incubated by Service personnel at Winthrop National Fish NFH in the Methow River Basin, and then shipped as “eyed” eggs to the Willard NFH. The coho were then reared for up to 15 months at Willard NFH before being trucked back up to central Washington, where tribal biologists will release them to “imprint,” or acclimate, to local waters prior to migrating to the ocean.
The whole process takes about 18 months, equal to the amount of time wild coho would spend in their natural streams in the egg, fry and pre-smolt stages. The science and fish culture practices used in this partner-coordinated propagation program have received praise by the congressionally mandated Hatchery Scientific Review Group and the Service’s Hatchery Review Team.
Both reintroduction programs fit in with long-term tribal goals for rebuilding salmon runs, and Service goals for minimizing impacts between hatchery stocks and wild runs.
“In place, in-kind restoration of natural populations, both for harvest and to bring back salmon runs that had been lost, are tribal priorities,” said Zimmerman.
“These Service/Tribal partnerships are more than just harvest augmentation programs,” said Speros Doulos, Columbia River Gorge NFH Complex Manager.
“They exemplify the use of evolving science to transition to locally adapted fish stocks that pose less risk to naturally spawning and ESA-listed fish.”