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New Corps Contract Moves Willamette Trout Production From McKenzie Hatchery To Trout Farm
Posted on Friday, September 22, 2017 (PST)

A private central Oregon trout farm received a $1.3 million annual contract to grow trout that eventually will be planted in the Willamette River basin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract September 15 to Desert Springs Trout Farm in Summer Lake.

Previously, the trout had been produced at the Leaburg Hatchery on the McKenzie River in Oregon. Owned by the Corps, but operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the hatchery produced rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as summer steelhead. The Corps operates the hatchery as mitigation for losses due to Willamette River basin dams, but it is phasing out the trout production at the hatchery by the end of next year.


The Corps said it had determined that it can meet its trout mitigation through a supply contract, such as those recently signed with ODFW, and that it does not need to operate a hatchery to acquire that supply.


According to the Corps, Desert Springs has produced trout for ODFW in the past and has delivered the fish to ODFW-directed rivers and lakes. As a result of their experience, the company is familiar with the state’s permitting process and standards for fish production.


“Desert Springs’ proposal met the federal government’s requirements at a cost that provides the best value to taxpayers,” said Tammy Mackey, Portland District Fish Section chief. “They have worked with ODFW in recent years and we feel confident that they will provide good stock that will meet the expectations of Oregon anglers and fish managers.”


ODFW had also vied for the contract, according to Scott Patterson, Fish Propagation manager for ODFW.


“ODFW’s bid was about $575,000 lower than the news release announcement by the Corps. The award to a new contractor was a surprise and puzzling,” Patterson said. “We are unclear what steered the Corps to another contractor. ODFW procurement staff has requested a debrief on the process of their decision.”


Although ODFW in the past has largely decided where the trout produced at the Leaburg Hatchery would eventually be placed, Patterson said that based on past conversations with the Corps ODFW will have much less input on those decisions.


“It has been a long road and a drawn out process for our company but we are happy for the result and are eager to show what private industry is capable of within this particular arena,” said Desert Spring’s operations manager Ethan Negas. “Make no mistake however, we understand that we have our work cut out for us and expect no quarter.”


Proposals were evaluated independently and analyzed using the government’s best value trade off selection process, according to Michelle Helms, Corps spokesperson. “Desert Springs’ proposal exceeded the Corps’ requirements at a cost that provides the best value to taxpayers.”


As for continued production of summer steelhead at the hatchery, the Corps and ODFW have yet to begin discussions on the future of those fish or the future of the Leaburg Hatchery.


A court challenge to summer steelhead production at Corps hatcheries in the Willamette River basin is moving through U.S. District Court in Eugene. A recent development in the case directly challenges the Corps’ newest contracts with ODFW for summer steelhead production at several Willamette River basin hatcheries, saying that changes in hatchery operations requires a new consultation with NOAA Fisheries.


The contract with Desert Springs is for trout supply and delivery only; it does not include hatchery facilities. The Corps determined earlier this year that the Leaburg Hatchery will not be used to produce trout. While the hatchery’s future is still under consideration it is still in use. ODFW is still caring for fish being grown in the facility and will release them when appropriate.


(See CBB, March 10, 2017, “Corps Says Five Oregon Mitigation Hatcheries Could Stay With ODFW, May Solicit Bids For Two Others,”


The Corps recently awarded contracts to ODFW to operate four Willamette Valley hatcheries and the Cole M. Rivers hatchery in the Rogue River Basin. Those contracts went into effect Sept. 1, and include services such as fish production and release, marking and tagging of fish, and fish health services. The Corps is continuing discussions with ODFW on operations of the Bonneville Hatchery and a contract is expected by November 1.


“The services to be provided under the contract with Desert Springs are similar to those provided under the Corps-ODFW Cooperative Agreement for trout production which expired June 30,” Helms said. “We have an extension with ODFW to finish rearing fish at the Leaburg Hatchery for stocking at the appropriate locations.”


The Desert Springs Trout Farm produces sterile rainbow trout of one-third to 6 pounds for both food markets and for planting in lakes and streams. An artesian well feeds the farm, according to the farm’s website, providing a constant supply of pathogen-free 60 degree water. It also has the capacity to deliver the fish to locations in Oregon, California and Nevada (


In June 2017, Desert Springs delivered 10 to 14 inch trout for ODFW to Burns Pond, Chickahominy Reservoir, Stateline Reservoir, Bowman Pond, Miller Lake, Campbell Lake, Deadhorse Lake, Thompson Valley Reservoir and Ana Reservoir, all in Oregon.


Production of sterile trout is part of the Corps’ contract with Desert Springs. That’s typical, Helms said, since the fish are non-native rainbow trout.


The contract calls for Desert Springs to produce up to 277,000 pounds of fish to meet the Corps’ mitigation goal. Patterson said that the Leaburg Hatchery capacity for trout exceeds that amount.


Earlier this year, the Corps issued a $51,000 contract to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to assist in producing and releasing fall Chinook in the Umatilla River.


Also see:


--CBB,  March 17, 2017, “Groups Intend To Challenge Summer Steelhead Hatchery Program For Willamette, Santiam Rivers,”


--CBB, February 10, 2017, “Corps To Bid Out Operations At Seven Corps-Owned Oregon Hatcheries Now Managed By ODFW,


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