very nature of steelhead spawning season is tough, coinciding with high flows
and spring storms rolling inland from the Pacific. This year is proving to be
more difficult than usual for fish and the biologists who monitor them.
Creek is the Grande Ronde Basin’s stronghold for steelhead, just four miles
upriver from the Grande Ronde River’s confluence with the Snake. Clark Watry,
project leader for the Nez Perce Tribe’s adult steelhead monitoring program on
Joseph Creek said the returning adults typically exceed the viable abundance or
the delisting threshold of 1,000 fish a year.
Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Enterprise Field office has spawning ground
records dating back to the 1960s. Jeff Yanke, the department’s Enterprise Field
office fish biologist, said most of the surveys were done in the upper Joseph
Creek watershed, but they have survey records along three miles of Swamp Creek
in Joseph Creek’s lower watershed. Those redd counts were used to generate
population abundance in the past, but he said in recent years the state relies
on the adult weir and PIT tag array near the mouth of Joseph Creek run by the
Nez Perce Tribe.
2011 the tribe installed a weir on Joseph Creek designed to monitor the
magnitude of the run and develop trends in fish that reach their spawning
ground. Now in the project’s seventh year, there is still a lot to learn about
why steelhead flourish in this tributary.
said, “We’re still trying to answer why it’s so good.”
flows completely shut down the weir in 2014, Watry said, and this year is
proving difficult as well. In early February Watry said the ice broke and high flows
damaged the weir making trapping in Joseph Creek impossible.
said, “High flows exceeded the operational capacity of the weir and while they
persist we are not able to trap.”
the water dropped briefly in March he said they were able to make some repairs
and have intermittently been able to trap fish, but the weir isn’t across the
whole creek, so it isn’t working effectively.
unfortunate we are all struggling through these high waters,” Watry said.
“There are places we don’t know much about steelhead because of the time of
year they are migrating and spawning.”
late January through May Watry said his crew stays at the Washington State
Joseph Creek Wildlife Area in bunkhouse facilities, a short walk to the tribe’s
weir. With the fickle water levels and weather of late winter and spring, he
said they rely heavily on the PIT tag array downstream of the weir during high
flows and the early steelhead return from the beginning of November through
mid-January when snow and ice prevent access to the wildlife area.
said, “We are able to use that information in the early season to determine how
many fish are moving into system before we get the weir in.”
said a combination of the data from the weir, the array and spawning ground
survey gives fish managers multiple methods to develop population estimates
while increasing the reliability and equality of the estimates.
spring water challenged managers at another remote northeastern Oregon
facility, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Big Canyon hatchery
satellite and acclimation site on the Wallowa River east of Minam operated from
February through May.
water affected the facility’s fish ladder in early March, Ron Harrod, manager
for the Wallowa Hatchery, said, allowing 50 to 100 returning adult
hatchery-raised steelhead to get upstream 100 yards where another barrier
blocked them from entering Deer Creek.
was kind of a big deal,” Harrod said. “The implications of hatchery and wild
fish spawning together weren’t good. We got a handle on it, but it was a
disaster for a couple days.”
and debris crushed the panels adjacent to the bridge over Deer Creek to the
point Harrod said they had to be pulled out.
were so many rocks on the panels we thought the water was going to take out the
bridge,” Harrod said.
water also flooded the site’s acclimation ponds forcing the release of smolt
about a week earlier than scheduled. Harrod said they had been there about a
month - long enough to be imprinted by Deer Creek’s water and were close to the
ideal size for release.
flows wreak havoc on facilities from the Snake and Columbia River dams to adult
weirs, hatcheries and juvenile release sites, Harrod said there is at least one
water is excellent for smolts out-migrating to the ocean,” Harrod said.