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Salmon Stocked in Powder River

by Jayson Jacoby, Associated Press
Statesman Journal, June 19, 2004

(John Coillins) An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officer helps a chinook salmon in the Powder River near Baker City this month. It was the first of its kind to swim in these waters since the Great Depression. The black-speckled fish, a yard long and thick as a weightlifterís biceps, flops in the net and then, with a single thrash of its tail, disappears into the murky currents of the Powder River near downtown Baker City.

It is a chinook salmon.

And it is the first of its kind to swim in these urban waters since the Great Depression.

Fifteen minutes later, about a dozen more salmon have splashed into the chilly Powder, which is running fast with irrigation water.

On the riverís east bank, Bob Becker climbs into a white Ford pickup truck, which rides higher on its rear springs now that it has disgorged half its load of 10- to 15-pound salmon, plus a couple hundred gallons of water.

Becker is the fish transport coordinator at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wild-lifeís La Grande office. His task is to reintroduce salmon to the upper Powder, where they have not swum since Thief Valley Dam blocked their path in the early 1930s.

Biologists released almost 200 salmon, most of them 4 years old, which were raised in a hatchery, Zakel said.

The fish migrated down the Snake and Columbia rivers and lived in the Pacific Ocean for two years before returning to the fresh water of the Columbia late this winter.

The salmon migrated up-stream more than 300 miles, Zakel said, fighting through the fish ladders at eight dams on the Columbia and the Snake.

This spring, the chinook reached an obstacle they could not conquer: Hells Canyon Dam.

There they swam into a trap below the damís 300-foot-high concrete face. After spending a few days at the Oxbow hatchery, the salmon were taken in Beckerís truck to Baker City.

Their lives in the Powder will be brief, Zakel said.

The females will try to lay their eggs late this summer, Zakel said, and it is possible some eggs will be fertilized. But the adult salmon almost certainly will be dead by Halloween, he said.

Zakel hopes most of these fish will die with hooks in their mouths. Anglers landed at least five salmon Memorial Day weekend. Giving anglers a chance to catch these fish is the reason ODFW officials decided to dump these salmon into the Powder, Zakel said.

Biologists arenít trying to establish salmon runs in the Powder, he said.

The river canít support annual runs of chinook, Zakel said. And although there is a slight chance that these stocked salmon will produce offspring, the fish canít reach the ocean (four dams, none with fish ladders, stand in the way), and they would not survive long in the river, he said.

Zakel predicts that anglers will catch most, if not all, of the salmon now swimming in the Powder.


Jayson Jacoby, Associated Press
Salmon Stocked in Powder River
Statesman Journal, June 19, 2004

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