The Native Fish Society has asked a federal court to stop the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Sandy Hatchery annual release of juvenile Spring Chinook into the Bull Run River. As described in the Oregonian story, a judge will rule March 20 whether releases at the hatchery should be suspended to eliminate potential harm to wild Sandy River salmon and steelhead listed threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Oregonian story also includes a video of the holding enclosure at the former Bull Run Powerhouse, describing the goals of the hatchery release program. The full text of the Native Fish Society request for injunction is also available.
Recent returns of adult salmon to spawn in the Sandy and upper tributaries in the Salmon and Zigzag Rivers have included large numbers of hatchery origin strays, after Marmot dam on the Sandy was removed in 2007. While restoring the Sandy to a free-flowing condition, the dam had served as a sorting facility for hatchery fish, which were intercepted while wild fish were allowed to pass upstream to spawn. Scientific studies in other basins indicate that hatchery fish may negatively impact the productivity of wild fish.
After the removal of Marmot dam in 2007, hatchery strays grew to 70% or more of Spring Chinook spawners in 2011. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) placed sorting weirs in the lower Salmon and Zigzag to intercept hatchery strays in 2011 and 2012 to try to reduce hatchery-wild interactions. ODFW began releasing juvenile chinook salmon from a holding tank on the Bull Run River in 2011, using a process known as “acclimation” to train the fish to return to the Bull Run rather than turning upstream to spawning areas of wild fish. ODFW has also reduced the number of fish released, previously totaling 1.3 million juveniles in the Sandy per year. ODFW’s 2013’s release was planned for 200,000 Spring Chinook smolts, compared to 300,000 in recent years and 460,000 prior to 1999. ODFW’s January presentation to the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, including estimates of hatchery-wild spawners, describe the hatchery program’s history, spawning return numbers, and ODFW management plans.
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