Efforts to restore spring Chinook salmon runs into the upper Deschutes basin appear to be taking hold.
The fish trap at Pelton Dam is checked three times a week.
This year, three times as many spring Chinook salmon have returned compared to last year.
“We have 62 returning that originated from the upper basin. That may not sound like a lot but it’s the most we’ve had,” said Rebekah Burchell, Fisheries Biologist for Portland General Electric. “It’s helping us identify that some of the adaptive management that we’re doing is working.”
At the trap, the fish are anesthetized to make them easier to handle.
They are Identified based on fin clips.
Scale samples are taken, which helps determine how long they spent in the ocean.
Some are marked with green Floy tags to make them easy to identify on the spawning beds in the upper tributaries.
Others have radio tags placed in their gullets so their progress up the tributaries above the dams can be tracked.
“Having flown over this stretch in a helicopter yesterday, I can tell you that is a female,” Burchell said. “From up here I can easily tell you that fish is in that pool right down there.”
“Are there other radio-tagged fish nearby? We can take that back to the office and determine we may have a male and female fish paired up here. We can follow them to the spawning grounds. So we have a better understanding of where these fish are going and hopefully spawning.”
Burchell is optimistic spring Chinook will spawn this year in the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers.
Naturally spawning salmon are an important step toward restoring salmon runs to areas where they’ve been absent since dams blocked their migrations more than 50 years ago.
Sixty-two salmon returning thus far doesn’t sound like a lot but that is three times the number that came back last year.
That is progress toward the goal of 1,000 Chinook returning every year to establish a sustainable and harvestable salmon run in the upper Deschutes basin.