Coho numbers climb thanks to partnership

The Wenatchee World

On a golden autumn day, the reflection of bright yellow leaves in the river was broken by the movement of dark red fish. Leaning over the rail of a bridge, I could see salmon jockeying for position over the cobbles of the riverbed. Throughout October and well into November, visitors to Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery could expect to see coho salmon in Icicle Creek. They haven’t always been there, but thanks to the work of many partners, returns were strong enough to support fishing in 2020.

Salmon in the Columbia River were heavily overfished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Coupled with major changes to the river itself from dam-building, along with other impacts that wrecked or blocked fish habitat, coho vanished from the mid- and upper-Columbia River basin. Just in the past 20 years, the human population of Washington State has increased 30 percent, placing huge pressure on our natural resources.

But rivers teeming with salmon don’t have to be a thing of the past. That’s a goal of the Leavenworth Fisheries Complex, one we share with partners like the Yakama Nation Fisheries (YNF). Spring Chinook are raised at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, which return in May and June and are spawned in August. The timing for coho salmon is different, with adults returning from September to November. That means two different kinds of salmon can be raised in one facility, rotating through different spaces. YNF began reintroducing coho to the Wenatchee River in 1999, using fish from the lower Columbia River at first but developing a locally-adapted broodstock capable of surviving the long, difficult journey from the ocean.