Tuesday April 9, 2024

Statesman Journal

The number of winter steelhead returning to the Upper Willamette Basin reached its highest level in two decades this season, providing hope that the ocean-going trout can rebound after a near population collapse in 2017.

So far, 7,630 winter steelhead have migrated upstream of Willamette Falls, the most since 2004, according to data from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Another thousand or more are possible this season.

Chrome-colored and powerful, wild winter steelhead numbers crashed to just 822 fish in 2017, entering what biologists called the “extinction vortex” — meaning they could have been gone for good. Their numbers have stabilized since, but returns have averaged just 3,100 per year compared to more than 20,000 in the 1970s and 80s.

Steelhead migrate to the ocean and return to major tributaries as the Santiam, Molalla and Yamhill. They’ve been listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1999.

“It is good to see such a strong Willamette winter steelhead run after the recent poor run years,” ODFW Mid-Willamette district fish biologist Elise Kelley said.

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