Newly released salmon spread out

June 26, 2012
Newly released salmon spread out

So far, salmon have moved into Crooked, Metolius and Deschutes

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin
Published: June 26. 2012 4:00AM PST

Jim Bartlett, fish passage biologist with Portland General Electric, releases an adult chinook salmon Monday into Lake Billy Chinook. Released just upstream of Round Butte Dam, adult chinook salmon have been tracked into all three arms of the lake.

The fish have been tracked into all three arms of the lake, possibly headed to spawn upstream in the Metolius, Deschutes and Crooked rivers.

Portland General Electric biologists have put radio transmitters into 13 of the 22 spring-run chinook salmon released upstream of the Pelton Round Butte dam complex over the last 3½ weeks, said Megan Hill, PGE’s native fish studies team leader.

Of the 13, biologists have tracked eight since their release; two were released Monday near Round Butte Dam and will be tracked later. So far, data show most of the fish heading toward the Metolius River, but that trend could change as more are tracked.

“With just a few fish it’s hard to know what it means,” Hill said.

The fish are among the first adult chinook to swim upstream of the dam complex in more than 40 years and the first to be studied, she said. Later this year, adult sockeye salmon and then adult steelhead will be joining the salmon in what will become a nearly year-round tracking program.

The tracking will help the biologists understand “where these fish go, where they thrive and where they might encounter problems,” said Steve Corson, spokesman for PGE in Portland.

The company co-owns the Pelton Round Butte dam complex, which produces enough power to supply a town the size of Salem, with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. As part of their federal license to operate the dams, renewed in 2005, the PGE and the tribes are trying to restore salmon and steelhead runs to the Upper Deschutes and its tributaries.

Corson said they don’t want “museum piece,” or token, fish runs. They want ones that eventually produce.

“The goal is to actually have healthy runs that people can fish for and eat,” he said.

Such runs are likely years, if not decades, off.

Built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the dam complex caused the end of wild salmon and steelhead runs from the Metolius, Upper Deschutes and Crooked rivers. While a fish ladder and tram led returning adult fish around the dams, their young had trouble finding their way downstream through Lake Billy Chinook. As the runs dwindled they were replaced by a hatchery at Round Butte Dam.

In 2009, PGE and the tribes completed the construction of a $100 million submerged fish tower designed to create a guiding current and help young fish downstream. Now some of the first fish to go through the tower are returning from the ocean as adults.

The fish are collected in a trap just downstream of the dams near Madras. The plan this year is to send half of the returning fish upstream of the dams and the other half to the Round Butte Hatchery.

While the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife predicted in February that there would be a run of 400 adult spring chinook, which as young were released above the dams, those numbers have not materialized.

As of Monday 42 salmon had returned, Hill said.

Low chinook runs to the Lower Deschutes River prompted the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife this month to close salmon fishing nearly seven weeks earlier than scheduled.

“It’s still not looking great,” said Rod French, ODFW district fish biologist in The Dalles said Monday.

The cause of the low chinook run on the Deschutes and other tributaries to the Columbia River remains unknown, he said. Adding to the mystery is that runs have been healthy on the John Day and Hood rivers, neighbors to the Deschutes.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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