OLYMPIA – A new program for restoring naturally spawning coho salmon runs in the upper Cowlitz River will be the focus of a public meeting Nov. 20 in Morton.
The meeting, sponsored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in conjunction with other members of the Cowlitz River Fisheries Technical Committee (FTC), is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. at the Bob Lyle Community Center, 700 Main Ave.
“This meeting is designed to give the public an opportunity to discuss the coho restoration program and resulting changes in fishing opportunities now under way in the upper Cowlitz River,” said Pat Frazier, regional WDFW fish manager.
Frazier will attend the meeting along with other members of the multi-agency FTC, established to oversee provisions of Tacoma Power’s federal hydroelectric project license and related settlement agreement on the Cowlitz River.
Members of FTC include WDFW, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Yakama Nation, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and Tacoma Power, which owns and operates two hydroelectric dams on the Cowlitz River.
Also scheduled to attend is Lars Mobrand, who chairs the independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group, which helped refine the coho-restoration plan endorsed by the FTC.
Under that plan, the number of hatchery-reared coho transported above the Cowlitz Falls Dam is now being carefully controlled to reduce competition with naturally spawning fish on the upper Cowlitz River.
That was one of several key requirements of Tacoma Power’s federal hydroelectric project license and related settlement agreement, reached in 2000 after several years of public input and scientific review.
Starting this year, the goal is to transport enough hatchery-reared coho above the dam to ensure that they arrive in equal numbers to naturally produced fish on the spawning grounds, Frazier said. If fewer than 2,000 natural fish are available, more hatchery fish will be moved upriver to achieve a minimum of 4,000 spawners, under the provisions of the new program.
Based on returns through October, Frazier anticipates that between 4,000 to 7,000 naturally spawning coho will be transported to the upper Cowlitz River this year. If these levels are achieved, sufficient numbers of hatchery fish will also be moved upriver to meet spawning goals and provide hatchery coho for a selective fishery, he said.
Fisheries below Cowlitz Falls Dam will not be affected by the new program, but the number of hatchery fish available for harvest upstream will likely be reduced under the new protocols, Frazier said.
“The goal of this program is to reestablish natural runs of coho in the upper Cowlitz River, while also providing sustainable fishing opportunities for hatchery-reared adults,” he said. “In the future, we should be able to move additional hatchery fish upriver as the naturally spawning coho population becomes more productive.”
As part of that effort, the hydroelectric project license and settlement agreement requires Tacoma Power to increase survival rates of young salmon through the hydroelectric system. That action is vital to restoring a naturally spawning coho population in the upper Cowlitz River, Frazier said.
“Everyone has a role to play in this restoration effort,” he said. “Rebuilding this naturally spawning population is a high priority for anyone concerned about the future of restoring sustainable coho runs in the lower Columbia River region.”