Plan to reduce hatchery releases helps wild salmon

WASHOUGAL -- Chinook and coho salmon releases in the Washougal River will be reduced by 70 percent or more as part of a hatchery reprogramming effort to boost wild fish recovery in lower Columbia River tributaries.

Releases of fall chinook in the Washougal will be cut from 4 million to 900,000, while coho plants will drop from 500,000 a year to 150,000.

State officials have completed four public meetings in Southwest Washington communities to explain the details of the Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan.

The basic goal of the plan is to help wild salmon and steelhead populations rebuild by reducing the competition they face from hatchery origin fish.

The plan also tries to maintain as much sport and commercial fishing as is possible without jeopardizing wild fish recovery.

Andy Appleby of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said there are about 400 naturally spawned fall chinook returning to the Washougal each year.

The watershed is capable of producing a return of about 1,000 adult chinook, he said.

Natural coho are in worse shape, with only a "couple of hundred" returning to spawn now, he said.

While state and federal plans do not include a specific recovery goal for Washougal coho, there is habitat for about 1,100 fish, Appleby added.

The reductions in salmon released in the Washougal are likely to cut angling success in September for fall chinook in Camas Slough and for coho in October and November.

The Washougal River has late-stock coho, fish which return from late September until almost December.

Those fish mill about in the Lady Island area and provide angling opportunity from early October until Thanksgiving.

Jimmy Watts of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the coho catch in the lower Columbia in the Camas-Washougal area since 2001 has ranged from 142 to 605, averaging 340.

Data from the coded-wire tags found in the snouts of coho caught in the Camas-Washougal area show that Washougal River fish are a major contributor, especially in October.

Coho headed for the Sandy and Klickitat rivers, along with hatcheries near Bonneville Dam, also are taken.

Besides reducing the number of fall chinook released, state officials plan to install a temporary weir in coming years somewhere between Riverside Bowl and the mouth of the Little Washougal River, said Pat Frazier, regional fish manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The weir will make it possible to pass wild fish upstream and remove hatchery chinook from the river, reducing spawning competition.

The weir would not be used for coho, which return during the higher flows of late fall, Frazier said.

About 2.1 million young fall chinook from the Washougal will be shifted to net pens in the Columbia River, probably in Youngs Bay at Astoria and Deep River near Skamokawa, Appleby said.

While those salmon will not contribute to fisheries farther up the Columbia, they still will provide opportunity off the Washington coast and at Buoy 10, just inside the Columbia.

Frazier said the new hatchery plan maintains winter and summer steelhead releases in the Washougal River.

The watershed gets 60,000 summer and 60,000 winter steelhead annually.

The upper watershed will be preserved as a wild steelhead refuge, he added.

Overall, the Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Plan keeps 95 percent of the fall chinook and steelhead releases in the lower Columbia and 85 percent of the coho, Frazier said.