Earlier this week a clogged inlet stopped flowing water from entering the raceways containing 400,000 juvenile salmon at the Rock Creek Hatchery along the North Umpqua River. All of the young fish were killed. My 1st thought was “there’s goes a half million dollars!”.
Those juvenile fish were set to be released into the North Umpqua next spring, to begin their 3-5 year life cycle, with the final stage being a return to where they were released to start the process all over again. 400,000 fish sounds like a lot, and it is, but generally, hatchery returns are around 0.7%- 1.2%. So in the end, we lost 3,000 – 4,500 returning adults 3 to 5 years from now.
What happens to the other 395,000 fish that are released each and every year? I’m guessing that a whole lot of them don’t survive the first week after being released. Let’s jump back a little and look at the process.
Four years ago, 5.2 million juvenile fish (4.6M Chinook, 600K Steelhead) were released into the Willamette Basin Rivers (Coast Fork, Middle Fork and Main stem Willamette, McKenzie, South and North Santiam, Mollala and others). With each fish costing roughly $1 each to raise, this was a sizable investment for the ODFW, NOAA and other government entities. And this is not a one-time thing, it happens every year. Why you may ask? Simple – to replace wild fish runs lost due to the construction of dams.
We replace the lost fish (due to being cutoff from spawning habitat) with hatchery raised fish of similar species so that commercial and sport anglers can continue the business/sport of catching fish.
So, how’d it all work out?
For Spring Chinook, it went pretty well, we have roughly 50,000 Spring Chinook making their way back to the hatcheries they were released from. That’s a return on the investment of 1.1%. It’s the best return of Spring Chinook we’ve seen in the last five years. That’s the good news.