The first hatchery-reared fall chinook salmon will be released in the Grande Ronde River May 24-25 to help recover the threatened species and contribute to future fisheries.
Tanker trucks will transport 400,000 sub-yearling fall chinook from the Lyons Ferry Hatchery to the release site on the river, a couple of miles below the Oregon border.
The release is a significant milestone in more than 20 years of cooperative efforts to increase the distribution and abundance of fall chinook in the lower Snake River basin, where they are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as threatened with extinction.
Partners in the effort include the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Idaho Fish and Game, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Idaho Power Company.
The release is an outgrowth of an agreement reached in U.S. vs. Oregon, a federal court case involving treaty-reserved fishing rights. Through a proposal from the Umatilla Tribes, the federal, state and tribal co-managers agreed to include Grande Ronde fall chinook releases in the Columbia River Fish Management Plan re-negotiation agreement that was signed in early 2005.
"We've been envisioning this release nearly ever since Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery was built to mitigate fish loss from the Snake River dams," said WDFW district fish biologist Glen Mendel of Dayton.
The Grande Ronde River is a tributary of the Snake on the Washington-Oregon-Idaho border, upstream of Lower Granite Dam, the last of the four dams on the lower Snake River in southeast Washington.
Snake River fall chinook juveniles have also been released from Lyons Ferry Hatchery at the hatchery, in the Snake River near Captain John Rapids or Couse Creek, and from acclimation facilities operated by the Nez Perce Tribe in the Clearwater River, the Snake River at Pittsburgh Landing (near Hells Canyon Dam) and Captain John Rapids (between Asotin and the mouth of the Grande Ronde River.)
These releases are designed to mitigate for the four lower Snake River dams under the USFWS Lower Snake River Compensation Program and BPA Fish and Wildlife Program.
Fall chinook have also been released into the Clearwater River in Idaho from the two-year-old Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery as mitigation for the Snake and Columbia River hydropower system, and by Idaho and Oregon at Hells Canyon Dam for mitigation of the dams operated by Idaho Power Company.
In all, more than four million yearling or sub-yearling chinook salmon - including the 400,000 scheduled for the Grande Ronde River - will be released into the Snake River system this year.
Adult returns of both hatchery and naturally reproducing fish have increased significantly in recent years, due to increased hatchery production and releases upstream of Lower Granite Dam, reduced harvest in the lower river and ocean and improved ocean conditions.
Counts of fall chinook "redds" or egg nests in October through early December in the Grande Ronde were usually less than six per year in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the past few years, redds number in the hundreds, and even greater increases have been documented in the Snake River mainstem and Clearwater River.