Salmon fishing is an Oregon tradition. And when the coastal fall Chinook season opens each year, anglers are ready to catch this large fish, a Pacific Northwest delicacy.
What they may not realize is what has happened behind the scenes, year-round, to make the fishing season a success.
Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program volunteers work continuously to spawn, raise and release fish. Meanwhile, Restoration and Enhancement program funds support their efforts by supplying fish food, improving their facilities and funding projects to improve fishing.
Together, these programs help provide a great catch for Oregon anglers.
“You have several significant coastal fisheries that are very much supported by the STEP and R&E programs,” said Kevin Herkamp, STEP and R&E Program Coordinator.
Throughout the state, there are 12 volunteer-run STEP fish hatcheries. STEP volunteers also help run around 30 acclimation facilities.
R&E covers about 97 percent of the STEP fish food needs, about $100,000 per year. Volunteers and local funding covering about 92 percent of the costs of raising the fish.
Coos, Coquille and Tenmile
Gary Vonderohe, assistant district fish biologist in the Charleston field office, has seen fishermen there catch a great harvest, especially in Coos Bay, over the past several years.
Angler creel surveys conducted in 2010 to 2013 estimated the number of adult fall Chinook harvested from Coos Bay each year at between 5,200 and 8,500.
“The last several years we’ve had some really good fishing,” Vonderohe said.
The Coquille basin is primarily a wild fish fishery, Vonderohe said, and the Coos basin is about a 50-50 mix of hatchery and wild fish.
An R&E five-year study of fish caught in the Coos basin found a significant number of fish – at least 20 percent and as much as 80 percent, depending on the year – had been raised in the hatchery, Vonderohe said.
In this area, STEP volunteers and ODFW staff work together to release about 2.1 million fall Chinook each year in Coos Bay.
In the North Coast Watershed District STEP program, the Nestucca Anglers Rhoades Pond STEP Project also makes a significant contribution.
The Nestucca Anglers began rearing 100,000 fall Chinook smolts in 1999, starting with the help of an R&E grant to make upgrades, said North Coast STEP biologist Ron Rehn.
Since then, the volunteers have produced and released more than 1.6 million fall Chinook smolts into the Nestucca basin, Rehn said.
Recently, the Nestucca Anglers completed a major restoration project, with the help of R&E funds and contributions from other supporters. They relined the pond, added bird netting, did electrical work and much more, helping immediately with structural and predator issues.
Upgrades reduced the loss of fish from 30 percent to 3 percent, Rehn said. The fish released through the program are marked with an adipose fin clip, ensuring a harvest even when wild fall Chinook are restricted due to poor forecasted returns.
“This project has direct benefit to both recreational and commercial fisheries,” Rehn said.
Gardiner, Reedsport, Winchester Bay
At the Gardiner, Reedsport, Winchester Bay hatchery, volunteers work to release 100,000 pre-smolts each year.
Volunteers spawn adults, hatch fish eggs, rear the juveniles, feed and monitor the fish, clip them to identify them as hatchery fish and later transport them to an acclimation site in Winchester Bay, said Evan Leonetti, STEP biologist in the Umpqua district office.
The fish will rear in the estuary for another couple months before they go out to the ocean, Leonetti said.
The fishery is important, in part, because it’s a big economic driver for the local communities.
“It brings a large amount of tourism dollars into the community,” Leonetti said. “I think a lot of these coastal communities depend a lot upon that.”