Thursday May 19, 2022

The Chronicle

The spring Chinook salmon hatchery program on the Cowlitz River does double duty: not only does it provide angling opportunity by mitigating the loss of natural salmon production caused by dams in the watershed, but it also helps establish the reintroduction of naturally produced populations above those dams.

To accomplish these goals, the program aims to collect 1,310 adult hatchery fish every year, which in turn can produce just over 1.7 million spring Chinook smolts. Typically, all of these hatchery-raised smolts have their adipose fins clipped at the hatchery before release, to identify them as hatchery fish and allow them to be harvested by anglers when the fish return to the river as adults.

But anglers have been catching more unclipped smolts in spring of 2022 than in past years. And there’s a very good reason for it.

Unfortunately, in 2020, very low marine survival resulted in adult returns well below the 1,310-fish target. By June 7 of that year, only 186 adults had been collected at the hatchery, and only 83 were hatchery-origin fish that could be used in the hatchery program. Historical run timing indicated the run should have been almost 50 percent complete by that date. Due to concerns over the low returns forecasted preseason, fishery managers closed the recreational fishery and considered additional steps to maximize broodstock collection.

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