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Here Come the Coho

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune - November 6, 1999

Here come the coho;
Fish declared extinct from Snake River Basin in 1984
are the result of tribal hatchery program

That fish you hook may not be a steelhead. Nearly 200 coho salmon have passed over Lower Granite Dam this fall.

The fish were declared extinct from the Snake River Basin in 1984, but in recent years the Nez Perce Tribe has worked to restore coho to the river. The project began in 1994 when the tribe received coho eggs from the Bonneville Dam hatchery complex on the Lower Columbia River.

The fish from those eggs were released as smolts in 1996 and 100 adults returned to the Clearwater River in 1997. Last year, just 12 coho were counted at the dam, according to fish counts compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This year, the tribe says 199 coho have passed the dam. The corps puts the number at 207, but there often are discrepancies in the official number of fish counted at the dam since the counts are based partly on estimates.

The returns mark an initial success of the tribe's plan to use hatcheries to restore wild salmon and steelhead stocks, according to Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Samuel N. Penny.

"The tribe will continue its efforts to restore dwindling and devastated fish populations through the use of innovative and scientifically sound programs," he said.

To that end, the tribe will continue to release up to 1 million coho smolts a year in the Clearwater River Basin. It plans to use some of the returning adults as brood stock.

Coho are a traditional food source for the tribe, according to James L. Holt a member of the tribal executive committee.

"The coho, a traditional food source for the Nez Perce people from time immemorial, is of critical importance to the Nez Perce culture and to the restoration of its homeland," he said.

If the initial success of the coho program grows, the tribe hopes to expand releases to the Grand Ronde and Salmon rivers.

To protect the fish, the tribe has instructed tribal fisherman to release all coho incidentally caught while fishing for steelhead. The tribe expects the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to issue a similar warning to sport anglers.

"Protecting steelhead from incidental take in the steelhead fishery will help to ensure the survival of this restored stock, which previously had been written off by state and federal fisheries managers," said Virgil Holt, chairman of the tribe's fish and wildlife commission.

During the fall steelhead season in 1997 a Lewiston fly fisherman caught one of the first coho adults to return to the Clearwater. The fisherman recognized it as a coho and released the fish.

Coho have black tongues, white gums and small irregular spots on the upper half of their tails.

by Eric Barker
Here Come the Coho
Lewiston Tribune, November 6, 1999

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