Three Columbia River Gorge national fish hatcheries recently released more than two million juvenile spring chinook salmon, continuing a 70-year program.
Carson NFH in Carson, Wash., released nearly 1.2 million smolts into the Wind River, while Little White Salmon NFH and Willard NFH, both located in Cook, Washington, released more than one million smolts into the Little White Salmon River.
”Returning adult spring chinook support a Columbia River sport, commercial and tribal fishery, and a highly successful tribal fishery in Drano Lake,” said Speros Doulos, manager of the Columbia River Gorge NFH Complex.” The Drano Lake fishery allows harvest of a hatchery stock without impact to ESA-listed and wild fish.”
Spring chinook produced by Columbia River Gorge NFHs are operated as “segregated harvest programs” to avoid ecological risks with the federally-listed Lower Columbia River chinook salmon or steelhead native to the Wind River.
This week’s spring chinook release also fulfills legal responsibilities the U.S. government has to tribes under the U.S. v. Oregon Management Agreement, as well as federal government responsibilities to mitigate for lost salmon production and spawning grounds due to the construction of hydropower projects that are part of the Federal Columbia River Power System.
“This spring chinook project helps maintain a fish population that is incapable of becoming self-sustaining due to habitat loss resulting from flooding, siltation, and fluctuating water levels caused by the Bonneville Pool, and it also provides fish to reaffirm tribal treaty granted fishing rights,” said Doulos. “The reliable return of adult spring chinook to the Columbia River and Drano Lake is recognized as a major contributor to these popular fisheries.”
The Carson, Little White, and Willard NFH spring chinook programs are funded by NOAA-Fisheries under authority of the Mitchell Act, which authorizes conservation of fish and fishery resources in the Columbia River basin.
Carson spring chinook have long supported a popular, annual recreational and tribal fisheries in the Wind River, the lower Columbia River, and the pool behind Bonneville Dam. That hatchery historically has also been a principal source of eyed eggs and fish for spring chinook reintroduction programs in rivers where they have been extirpated, such as the Walla Walla River, as well as the source of fish for successful Service-operated spring chinook hatchery programs elsewhere (e.g., Little White Salmon NFH, Leavenworth NFH).
The Carson broodstock was originally developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s from natural-origin adults trapped at Bonneville Dam from 1955 to 1964 during their upstream migration.
Last week’s hatchery releases are timed to coincide with the annual outmigration of young salmon to the ocean, a cycle that begins with the young fish making a downstream journey--swimming backwards-- to the Pacific Ocean, where they will live for one to five years or more, then return as adults to their natal streams, where they spawn and die.