August 28, 2008

Hatchery Plan Cuts Washougal Salmon


Jerry Fritz of Portland holds up a coho salmon caught near Lady Island near the mouth of the Washougal River.

WASHOUGAL - Chinook and coho salmon releases in the Washougal River will be reduced by 70 percent or more as part of a hatchery reprogramming effort to boost wild fish recovery in lower Columbia River tributaries.

Releases of fall chinook in the Washougal will be cut from 4 million to 900,000, while coho plants will drop from 500,000 a year to 150,000.

State officials have completed four public meetings in Southwest Washington communities to explain the details of the "Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan. The basic goal of the plan is to help wild salmon and steelhead populations rebuild by reducing the competition they face from hatchery-origin fish.

The plan also tries to maintain as much sport and commercial fishing as is possible without jeopardizing wild fish recovery.

Andy Appleby of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said there are about 400 naturally spawned fall chinook returning to the Washougal each year. The watershed is capable of producing a return of about 1,000 adult chinook, he said.

Natural coho are in worse shape, with only a "couple of hundred'' returning to spawn now, he said. While state and federal plans do not include a specific recovery goal for Washougal coho, there is habitat for about 1,100 fish, Appleby added.

The reductions in salmon released in the Washougal are likely to cut angling success in September for fall chinook in Camas Slough and for coho in October and November.

The Washougal River has late-stock coho, fish which return from late September until almost December. Those fish mill about in the Lady Island area and provide angling opportunity from early October until Thanksgiving.

Besides reducing the number of fall chinook released, state officials plan to install a temporary weir in coming years somewhere between Riverside Bowl and the mouth of the Little Washougal River, said Pat Frazier, regional fish manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The weir will make it possible to pass wild fish upstream and remove hatchery chinook from the river, reducing spawning competition. The weir would not be used for coho, which return during the higher flows of late fall, Frazier said.

About 2.1 million young fall chinook from the Washougal will be shifted to net pens in the Columbia River, probably in Youngs Bay at Astoria and Deep River near Skamokawa, Appleby said.

While those salmon will not contribute to fisheries farther up the Columbia, they still will provide opportunity off the Washington coast and at Buoy 10, just inside the mouth of the Columbia.

Frazier said the new hatchery plan maintains winter and summer steelhead releases in the Washougal River. The watershed gets 60,000 summer and 60,000 winter steelhead annually.

The upper watershed will be preserved as a wild steelhead refuge, he added.

Overall, the Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan keeps 95 percent of the fall chinook and steelhead releases in the lower Columbia and 85 percent of the coho, Frazier said.

Here's a look at what the plan does in other lower Columbia watersheds:

Lewis River - Approximately 880,000 early coho and 815,000 late coho will continue to be released in the North Fork downstream of Merwin Dam. Upstream of Swift Reservoir, the watershed will get 300,000 coho and 300,000 spring chinook.

Pacific Power will build a facility to collect the downstream migrants and move them around Swift, Yale and Merwin reservoirs as part of their federal license to operate the hydroelectric dams.

The spring chinook release of 1,050,000 downstream of Merwin will continue.

There will be a drop in the number of summer steelhead released, from the current 235,000 to 175,000. The winter steelhead releases stay unchanged at 100,000.

No hatchery fall chinook are produced in the North Fork of the Lewis. The stream is home to a traditionally strong wild population, although that run is subject to fluctuations and is in a down cycle currently.

The East Fork of the Lewis will be a wild salmon refuge, with no coho or chinook released. Steelhead releases in the East Fork will drop from 90,000 winter steelhead to 60,000 and 30,000 summer steelhead to 15,000.

Kalama - Fall chinook releases increase from 5 million to 7 million. Spring chinook releases remain unchanged at 500,000.

Total coho releases remain status quo, but the stocks will change. The Kalama will shift from 350,000 early and 350,000 late coho to 100,000 early and 600,000 late coho.

The steelhead program also stays the same. It is 45,000 early winter steelhead and 45,000 late winter steelhead. Summer steelhead releases are 60,000 of a local Kalama stock and 30,000 from Washougal River origin.

Cowlitz - There are no changes in the big watershed. Fall chinook remain at 5 million, coho at 2.9 million and spring chinook at 1.3 million.

Early winter steelhead are 300,000 and late winter steelhead are 390,000. Summer steelhead releases are 550,000.

Coweeman - This small Cowlitz tributary will be a wild fish refuge, with no chinook, coho or steelhead stocked.

It has been getting as many as 20,000 winter steelhead smolts a year.

Toutle - Summer steelhead releases in the South Fork will drop from 25,000 to 15,000.

Green - Coho production at Toutle Hatchery, which is actually on the Green River, will decrease from 800,000 to 150,000. Fall chinook decrease from 2.5 million to 1.4 million.

A weir will be installed near Toutle Hatchery. Wild fish will be allowed to pass upstream and hatchery fish kept in the lower river, where there is much better angler access.

Elochoman - Coho and chinook releases will end in the Wahkiakum County stream. Elochoman Salmon Hatchery will close. The stream becomes a wild salmon refuge.

The Elochoman has poor fall chinook and coho populations. The habitat is degraded and there are problems with flooding and siltation. Frazier said the agency has long deferred maintenance work on Elochoman hatchery and $15 million to $20 million are needed to bring the facility up to standard.

Previously, the Elochoman was planted with 2 million fall chinook and 930,000 coho.

Winter steelhead are an important fishery in the Elochoman, so the state will reopen Beaver Creek Hatchery, which is on a tributary. The hatchery will release 90,000 winter steelhead and 30,000 summer steelhead.

One million fall chinook will be produced at Beaver Creek and transferred to net pens in Deep River.

Grays - Also in Wahkiakum County, the Grays becomes a wild chinook refuge. The river will get 150,000 late coho and 40,000 winter steelhead.

Originally published by ALLEN THOMAS Columbian staff writer.

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