Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fish on the Move - Tule Fall Chinook in the White Salmon River

Biological Technician Kira Mazzi’s Experiences at Condit Dam

On October 26, 2011, after 100 years in operation, the Condit Dam was blown and decommissioning began. The decision to decommission the dam, owned by PacifiCorp, was due in part to the environmental concern for fish passage. The removal of the dam will open 33 miles of the White Salmon River and its tributaries for steelhead, 21 miles for coho, and 8 miles on the mainstem of the White Salmon River will be opened for tule fall Chinook. As part of PacifiCorp’s environmental obligation, money was set aside for the capture and relocation of tule fall Chinook prior to dam removal.

From August 1, 2011, to October 5, 2011, staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Tribal organizations, and other groups worked on the White Salmon River to capture and move as many salmon as possible to sites upstream of the Condit Dam before dam removal. The purpose of this was to ensure that the female salmon wouldn’t lay their eggs in the path of 2.7 million tons of sediment that would be released when the Condit Dam was breached.

Kira with one of the captured tule fall Chinook
Fish were captured in two ways. Boat seining was used at the mouth of the White Salmon River to trap and corral fish gathering below the first rapids. Once the fish were in the net, biologists removed the fish by hand and placed them into a fish tote located on the boat. Then the fish were transported to a floating barge where biological information was collected--length, sex, and genetics. An identification tag was inserted in each fish to identify them during carcass surveys later in the season. The fish were then loaded into a tanker truck which transported them 3-8 miles upriver to be released at one of three designated locations. The second method of capture was using a weir to direct the Tule into concrete holding ponds. The fish were then crowded and netted out by hand. Electro anesthesia was used to calm the fish while data was collected and an identification tag was inserted. These fish were then transported up river by tanker truck to be released. The combination of these two methods is what allowed for such a successful relocation effort.

In total, 679 fish were caught--380 males and 299 females. This was 179 fish above the goal set by the Chinook relocation project and USFWS. If each captured female lays 4,000 eggs, this project could potentially save more than 1,100,000 baby salmon in this run alone!

For the first time since 1911, the White Salmon River now runs unobstructed, and the fish will now once again live, spawn, and die in their native habitat.

Please check out these videos on YouTube for more information:

Condit Dam and the White Salmon
Condit Dam breach

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