SHORTS: IDFG Salmon Roundup For Sawtooth Hatchery; Grande Ronde River Habitat Work; Council FW Division Director Retires

— IDFG Captures 250 Chinook Stalled At Weir To Help Meet Sawtooth Hatchery Brood Stock Goals

In most years, Idaho Fish and Game’s hatchery managers wait patiently for Chinook salmon to return to hatcheries, but this summer, they gave them a helping hand at the Sawtooth Hatchery near Stanley. In August, Fish and Game staff and volunteers held a Chinook salmon roundup in the Salmon River downstream from the hatchery and trapped and transported nearly 250 fish that were holed up downstream and refusing to make the final swim.

A team of more than 60 Fish and Game staff and volunteers strung nets together in the river to form a giant loop. On the upstream side, Fish and Game staff donned wetsuits and slowly constricted the net, ushering 248 Chinook into a makeshift pen where netters scooped them into waiting tanker trucks.

From there, the fish were released into the Sawtooth Hatchery’s raceways, where the hatchery-raised and wild fish were separated. The wild Chinook were released upstream of the hatchery’s weir, and the hatchery-raised fish remained there, destined to produce the next generation of Chinook that will be available for anglers as early as 2021.

Unlike the annual sockeye roundups at Sawtooth, Fish and Game crews don’t usually round up Chinook because enough fish usually return to hatchery’s meet production goals. 

But in lean years like 2018 and 2019, too few adult Chinook returned to the hatchery, so every fish became critical. Of the 248 salmon that were rounded up, 122 of them were hatchery-raised adults, and 69 were females. They also captured 87 hatchery-raised jacks, which are one-year old males.

Considering only 1,067 adults and jacks returned to the Sawtooth Hatchery prior to the roundup, those 209 additional Chinook increased the hatchery’s return by nearly 20 percent.

“It’s a really substantial number,” said Travis Brown, assistant hatchery manager at Idaho Fish and Game’s Eagle Fish Hatchery. “What this really did is allowed Sawtooth Hatchery to get closer to their target numbers for brood stock.”

While the roundup didn’t quite push the Sawtooth Hatchery to its full brood stock needs, the extra effort gave it a much-needed boost. Prior to the roundup, the Sawtooth Hatchery had about 57 percent of its brood need, but including the females collected during the roundup, the number jumped to 72 percent.

“This roundup far outstripped everyone’s expectations,” said Fish and Game biologist David Venditti. “On average, each female can produce 4,500 eggs. You can do that math and see how many more eggs are going into the hatchery, and for Idaho’s anglers, that means more fish to bend a rod in a couple of years.”

For those without a calculator or acute mental math skills, that’s about 310,000 more eggs that might not have been produced at the Sawtooth Hatchery without the roundup.

Venditti added that the roundup benefits not only Idaho anglers and Idaho Fish and Game’s hatchery program, it also kept more hatchery fish away from wild spawners.

“These fish are made to be in the hatchery, and not spawning in the wild,” Venditti said. “By getting these fish into the hatchery where they belong, we are reducing the hatchery impacts on that natural population as well.”


— Umatilla Tribes Continuing Grande Ronde River Restoration Work To Improve Salmon Habitat

Work crews in northeastern Oregon’s Grande Ronde River valley continue to work to restore the river and floodplain to create better salmon habitat, improve riparian areas and fight the effects of climate change.

This is the second summer of work on a major fish and wildlife habitat project known as Bird Track Springs. The restoration is occurring in the Wallow Whitman National Forest’s La Grande Ranger District and on private land owned by Jordan Creek Ranch. Once complete, the habitat work is expected to dramatically improve two miles of the Grande Ronde River.

The environmental damage to the main stem Grande Ronde dates back to the turn of the last century. Decades ago everything from railroad construction to agriculture and logging practices devastated the river and the fish and wildlife living there.

Beginning in 2016, the Bonneville Power Administration started working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Grande Ronde Model Watershed and the Bureau of Reclamation to improve the two-mile section of river. Last summer, the Tribes broke ground on the project, which is expected to finish by November – but it’s a huge job.

“In some areas we are actually rebuilding the river bed and re-meandering the channel where it had been straightened,” says Allen Childs, fish habitat project lead for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.  “It’s really about reconnecting the floodplain and increasing river complexity by creating deep pools and more cover for fish.”

The work includes creating 64 river channel pools, restoring more than 100 acres of floodplain, creating at least 300 large wood structures and improving 3,700 feet of streambank to support salmon and steelhead.

With financial support from BPA and funds from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Allen says the Tribes are able to bring their vision for the Grande Ronde to life, giving the river resilience and more cool water for fish in a warming climate.

“Historically, this river produced a lot of salmon and steelhead and the Tribes desperately wants to see those kinds of sustainable fisheries in their homeland once again,” says Childs.

After the Bird Track Springs project wraps up this fall, the Tribes will tackle an adjacent project called Longley Meadows, also using BPA funds along with partner funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the U.S. Forest Service. Once complete, both projects together will have improved nearly four miles of northeastern Oregon’s Grand Ronde River for fish and wildlife


— NW Power/Conservation Council Fish/Wildlife Division Director Retires, Acting Director Appointed

Tony Grover, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s longest serving fish and wildlife division director, announced his retirement Monday from the Council.

Grover service at the Council began in 2002 when he was hired to serve as a fish and wildlife policy analyst for the Council’s Washington members. In 2007, he was promoted to serve as the Council’s director of fish and wildlife, a position he has held for the past twelve years.

During his tenure at the Council, Grover oversaw and managed three revisions of the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, a process mandated by Congress to occur at least every five years. The purpose of the fish and wildlife program is to protect and enhance all fish and wildlife adversely affected by hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin.

“Tony’s encyclopedic knowledge of the basin’s fish and wildlife resources, coupled with his strong relationships with the region’s federal, state, and tribal fish and wildlife managers will be difficult to replicate,” said Council Executive Director Steve Crow. “His departure will necessitate significant changes to our fish and wildlife division. We greatly appreciate his many contributions to the Council and the fish and wildlife program over the years, but realize he has other avenues he now wants to pursue.”

“I’ve enjoyed and appreciated my years at the Council,” said Grover. “I’ve had the chance to do something I love for the past 17 years. Not only has it been valuable and intellectually stimulating work, but I’ve also been able to work side-by-side with the best and brightest fish and wildlife professionals in the region. It’s time for a break, but I look forward to re-emerging again in a new role where I can put my knowledge, relationships, and skills to work again.”

The Council has appointed Patty O’Toole as acting director of the fish and wildlife division.

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