A facility at the Nez Perce Hatchery on the Clearwater River
in Idaho that will recondition spawned Snake River steelhead, known as kelts,
was given the go-ahead by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its
Portland meeting December 14.
The facility, proposed by the Tribes and the Columbia River
Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, will capture and recondition steelhead from the
river to increase the steelhead return rate from 0.4 percent to at least 6
percent to meet a federal biological opinion reasonable and prudent
The Tribes propose to do this by capturing steelhead heading
back out to sea after spawning, known as kelts, holding them in hatchery ponds
until fall and then releasing those that are ready to spawn again back into the
river, allowing them to migrate directly back to their spawning grounds without
having gone back to sea.
The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee had approved the
three-step Snake River Basin Steelhead Kelt Reconditioning Facility Master Plan
at its meeting in November and recommended that the full Council also approve
the project in December.
The approval allows the Tribes and CRITFC to proceed with
planning activities for the facility’s construction.
“This has been an interesting journey and has never been
done before,” Ritchie Graves told the Council in support of the Tribes’ Master Plan.
Graves is chief of the Columbia Hydropower Branch at NOAA Fisheries. “The
science is in its infancy on this.”
Graves said the facility supports RPAs 33 and 42 of the 2008
Columbia River Hydro System BiOp that calls for improving the B-run steelhead population
(mostly wild fish) in the Snake River to 6 percent by artificially
reconditioning kelt steelhead and/or improving instream passage through the
To reach that 6 percent goal, the Tribes would need to
recondition 180 kelts per year, Graves said. The Tribes’ hope to improve on
that plan and release 224 kelts per year.
“This looks like a very important project that has the
metrics for success,” said Tom Karier, Washington Council member as he gave his
approval for the project.
The Nez Perce and CRITFC submitted the master plan to the
Council March 28, which was then passed along to the Independent Scientific
Review Panel for review. In that review which was completed September 27,
http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/isrp/isrp2016-12/, the ISRP agreed that the Nez
Perce Tribal Hatchery is the best option to locate the kelt reconditioning
facility, but added that the facility will need to alter its current hatchery
management plan and it identified issues the Tribes will need to address. It needs
a monitoring and evaluation plan with an adaptive management component,
biologically-based escapement goals that account for density dependence and
more information on the level of effort it will take to collect the natural-run
kelts and how they will be identified.
The staff description of the project is at http://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7150678/f3.pdf
The $1,987,100 price of the facility will pay for the
installation of six twenty-foot circular tanks and a building to support the
long-term reconditioning of up to 750 kelts, supporting the goal of an annual
release of 180 reconditioned B-run kelts, according to Council staff.
Overall, however, the project cost is $16,261,613. Most,
about $14 million, has been spent since 2008 on study implementation, planning
and design, construction, and operation and maintenance. The money is reserved
in Columbia River Accords budgets in which the Bonneville Power Administration
funds state and tribal fish and wildlife projects.
Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $720,600,
including an annual $70,600 of amortized costs anticipating asset replacements
for such equipment as chiller and pumps. The Tribes will develop the annual
monitoring and evaluation expenses as part of their next review.
Kelt stage steelhead are abundant in the Columbia River, but
repeat spawners – those that actually make it back from the ocean – are rare.
Of Snake River steelhead, about 45 percent begin their trip to the ocean after
spawning. However, at Lower Granite Dam, the repeat spawner rate is less than
one-half percent, according to Doug Hatch of CRITFC.
The repeat spawner rate is 17 percent (the kelt rate is
unknown) on the Kalama River, 70 percent Kelt rate in the Yakima River with a
repeat spawner rate of 3.4 percent, and 58 percent kelt rate for the Willamette
River system with a repeat spawner rate of 1.3 to 12.4 percent.
About 85 percent of kelts are female.
The potential benefits to steelhead runs are significant.
For example, early experiments on the Yakima River resulted in 14 times more
kelts going back to spawn than if the fish had been left in the river to
migrate back to the ocean. “For the Snake River, the benefit is more than 100
times,” Hatch said.
--CBB, December 2, 2016, “Nez Perce Tribe Seeking Next Step
For Steelhead Kelt Facility To Capture, Recondition Spawned Fish,”
--CBB, July 22, 2016, “Repeat Spawners: Study Looks At How
Improving Steelhead ‘Kelt’ Survival Could Aid At-Risk Populations,”
--CBB, November 7, 2014, “Will Getting Some Steelhead To
Spawn Twice Improve Numbers? Yakama Nation Project Looks For Answers,”