Friday, December 28, 2012

Ben Wright's Retirement

Ben Wright, Animal Caretaker, retired from Dworshak National Fish Hatchery today after over 30 years of Service to the Federal government.  Ben was a friend to all and a great mentor to all the fish culturists, biologists, and managers that have been through Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.  Ben was born in Alaska and would tell stories of hunting seals and fishing with his father growing up. 

While at Dworshak, Ben spawned over 50 million steelhead and chinook eggs during his tenure.  This feat, along with his compassion for his co-workers earned him the title of "Grandfather" at Dworshak.  The crew honored Ben's retirement with a .270 rifle engraved with "Grandfather, Ben Wright"  from "DNFH".


Ben will be missed at Dworshak,  but his legacy continues through the people he touched and taught the art of rearing fish at this facility.  While surrounded by his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, he fondly lamented that his family has always been the most important part of his life, and his Dworshak family is no exception.


We'll Miss You Ben!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ten Million Fish, Part II

In July 2012, it became apparent that Rapid River hatchery (Idaho Department of Fish and Game operated for Idaho Power) was not going to meet their necessary broodstock for spring Chinook salmon. The co-managers requested that Dworshak take an additional 2 million eggs to make up the shortfall. To accomplish this Dworshak would need to collect an extra 500 females at spawning and use twice as much water in incubation than in years past. Rapid River has backfilled Dworshak when they have not met broodstock in the past.
Adult Chinook salmon ready to spawn

In August 2012, the intake for the Clearwater Hatchery pipeline failed. Several reps from the Corps were at Dworshak the day of the failure and received backing from the Portland office to completely support any efforts to save fish production at Clearwater Hatchery. One week after the failure, all 2.5 million Chinook smolts from Clearwater Hatchery were safely moved to Dworshak in 25 Burrows Ponds in System 3. To accommodate these additional fish, Dworshak consolidated the Steelhead into 5 ponds in System 3 (and 50 in Sys 1 and 2) and the Coho into 4 ponds in System 3. Dworshak is also operating under the premise that when the pipeline is repaired by January 2013, they will receive an additional 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to support the Chinook smolts through final rearing.

Dworshak Dam / Credit: ACOE

When the Clearwater Chinook production came to Dworshak, several key changes happened to wastewater management at Dworshak:

1) The staff created a cross connect from the System 3 re-use main aeration to the ladder discharge. This allowed the used of the defunct biofilter system to skim clean water through the launders and discharge it to the river during cleaning operations
2) The media from System 2 that had breached the screens was removed and taken offsite. This allowed the cross connection of System 2 and 3 biofilters through the old effluent pipeline and increased the capacity of the treatment pond
3) Cleaning protocols changed to incorporate large numbers of staff to maximize availability of the treatment pond space. We currently clean System 3 with a minimum of 10 staff members at a time
4) A cross connect was installed to alleviate excess water from System 2 and 3 out to the Clearwater river discharge rather than the ladder. This allowed the higher flow rates to be maintained in all 34 ponds in System 3 as compared to the 9 ponds utilized in 2011.
Cleaning System III Burrow's Ponds

Because of these changes, EPA recommended that the intent of the FFCA agreement had been reached. Necessity had genuinely inspired innovation! This opened the door for future rearing back in System 3 and allowed the continued use of System 3 to finish rearing the Clearwater Chinook smolts in 2013. The EPA hasn't provided anything officially stating we are in compliance, but have verbally supported our efforts to increase Chinook production this year under the emergency situation with the failure of the primary pipeline. They have also verbally supported us to increase production in the future based on our water quality data for how we are now able to operate system III.  Included in this effort, it is essential we follow through with the interconnections of System II and III and the pumps to pull supernatant from higher in the water (a float system will accomplish this) column to maximize the opportunity for solids to settle. 

Eyed Chinook salmon eggs

In September 2012, it became apparent that Rapid River Fish Hatchery had higher Spring Chinook fecundity and returns than expected. As such, they only needed 600K of the 2million eggs requested from Dworshak. Dworshak staff consulted with the co-managers; Corps, Tribe, LSRCP (Lower Snake River Compensation Program), and IDFG about rearing these additional eggs to smolts in System 3 during 2013. These additional smolts would help address shortfalls to the LSRCP program for Spring Chinook returns. All the co-managers were supportive of this increased production, if it did not affect the health or performance of current smolt releases. The Corps recommended a real estate agreement for this production increase.
Clearwater Hatchery Chinook to be release from Dworshak in the spring, 2013

I think this brings us back to today. We have a record number of fish and eggs on-station at Dworshak. We have staff from 4 entities (Corps, Tribe, FWS, and IDFG) actively working at Dworshak daily to make this endeavor a success and we are cautiously optimistic that all smolts will be released in great shape. We are currently battling some BKD issues in the Clearwater Chinook in Systems 3, but mortality from the outbreak is low and the outbreak has been attributed to hauling stress from IDFG Fish Health professionals. We did not have any IHN epizootics in steelhead production this year, and the Coho and Raceway Chinook continue to do great!

Text by Nate Wiese
Photos (unless noted) by Angela Feldmann

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ten Million Fish, Part 1

Clean hatchery water going back to the Clearwater

A lot has been happening at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery recently!

We currently have just shy of 4 million Chinook, 400K Coho, and 2.2 million steelhead on station. There are also 2.6 million eyed Chinook eggs, and around 1.2 million Coho eggs in incubation.

How did we get here?

For several years, Dworshak has been struggling to meet its NPDES permit (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). The Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA), Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Nez Perce Tribe entered into a Federal Facility Compliance Agreement (FFCA) to work towards a solution to this problem. As part of the FFCA, Dworshak needed to treat cleaning effluent from System 3 Burrows Ponds. In 2011, the System 3 solution was reducing the number of Burrows Ponds in production so that a limited volume of wastewater could be diverted to the old re-use system for treatment.
Steelhead Smolts

As a result of the reduction of System 3 availability, Dworshak increased the density of steelhead smolts reared in the 50 remaining Burrows Ponds to meet a release target of 2.1 million smolts. As part of the density increase, management also increased the flows to each Burrows Pond substantially; from an average of 450 gallons per minute (gpm) to over 850 gpm. This flow increase also corresponded with several other key water management changes including:

1. Replacement and rebuilding of the main pumps;
2. Reduction of leakage around the ladder supply valve and corresponding change to re-use water for the ladder and holding ponds;
3. Utilizing re-use in the Chinook raceways.

In 2011, System 3 was retrofitted with gates and protocols were developed to divert cleaning waste to the defunct biofilter for the 9 ponds in production. As part of the FFCA-driven System 3 shutdown, the Coho were also moved to the Raceways. This displaced 6 raceways of Spring Chinook production. The densities of the remaining Spring Chinook raceways were increased to maintain the 1.05 million smolt release goal.
The sad results of an IHNV outbreak

During the 2011 rearing, the Hatchery staff was very pleased with the Burrows Pond steelhead rearing and Raceway Chinook/Coho rearing. Approximately 300K steelhead were destroyed due to an infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus (IHN) outbreak, but this was traced back to a breach in the Nursery supply water and only affected the first take of steelhead. No other steelhead contracted IHN in 2011 due to early rearing on reservoir water in the System 1 Burrows Ponds. After early rearing, the steelhead fingerlings were split into final rearing numbers in August through September in the 59 Burrows Ponds. The staff immediately noticed the benefit of higher flow rates in the Burrows Ponds. The increased flows created a cleaner rearing environment and greater swimming velocities for the smolts. Survival in the Burrows Ponds again topped over 90% for the second year in a row, after the dismal 50% survival of BY2009.

Brood Year 2010, 2011 and 2012 steelhead have been produced using reservoir water beginning in May of each respective rearing cycle.  BY 10 and 11 were released in full numbers achieving or exceeding the 2.1 million smolt release target.  We are positioned well for the SST BY 12 numbers on station to meet or exceed the 2.1 million smolt release target in the April 2013.
Burrows Ponds at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery

In early summer of 2012, the Hatchery Management was much more comfortable with the System 3 cleaning operations. They made plans to return the Coho production to System 3, and increase the Spring Chinook production by 300K smolts and 300K parr at the request of the Lower Snake River Compensation Program (LSRCP). The Steelhead production was slated for 50 Burrows Ponds in Systems 1 and 2, and 10 Burrows Ponds in System 3, along with the 5 Coho Burrows Ponds. All of this would be supported with increased flows per rearing unit, based on the key water management changes from 2011.

Stay tuned. Next week we will talk about what happens when things don’t go as planned….

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another Great Externship

Hello! I’m Christina, a fourth year veterinary student from Colorado. You might recognize me from last winter when I spent two weeks at the Idaho Fish Health Center (IFHC) learning all I could about keeping Idaho’s salmon and trout disease free. The passion and enthusiasm of the veterinarian and biologists at the IFHC was extremely contagious, and I decided then and there that I wanted to pursue a career in fish health. So after getting my feet wet in December I decided to return this past August to go in waist deep… literally! 

Wild Fish Health Survey:

Every summer fisheries biologist Laura Sprague and a group of volunteers go into the field to collect wild fish from creeks all over the state of Idaho.  The goal of these expeditions is to assess the prevalence of important fish pathogens in native fish populations, to identify the bacteria, viruses, and parasites infecting our wild fish and to measure how widespread the pathogens are. This is done by collecting the heads, bits of spleens and kidneys from a previously determined number of wild fish from each stream chosen. These tissues are brought to the fish health laboratory and tested for important pathogens. Examples of these pathogens are the causative agents of Whirling Disease (Myxobolus cerebralis), Bacterial Kidney Disease (Renibacterium salmoninarum), and Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV). The great thing about the Wild Fish Health Survey is that it generates data biologists use to detect the onset of fish diseases early.  Since the survey is performed every year, we can detect subtle changes, such as a slight uptick of a certain bacterial pathogen in the trout population or the spread of a parasite into previously pathogen free waterways. Early detection of these changes helps us create policies to prevent further pathogen spread to keep wild and hatchery fish safe. Technically speaking we’re collecting samples to quantify pathogen presence in a population (surveillance) to assess and interpret spread of pathogens among individuals of the population (epidemiology).
Another great characteristic of the Wild Fish Health survey is that it’s a national project. Fisheries biologists all over the country are doing exactly what Laura is doing and submitting their findings to a national database. You can go to this website: and learn what pathogens have been detected in your favorite waterway wherever you are in the United States.
The day after I arrived, Laura and I drove a few hours north of Orofino and joined two other fantastic volunteers in the Ponderay area for fish sampling. What followed was four days of tramping around in cool, clear creeks deep in the forest. We scrambled over little waterfalls and skirted around deep sandy pools to find hidden fish. In all we electrofished over two dozen brook trout, sculpin, and the odd rainbow trout.  At the end of the day we took the fish back to our hotel to necropsy, saving the kidneys, spleen and heads for laboratory testing.  
I highly recommend going wild fish sampling with Laura for anyone interested in volunteering at the hatchery or fish health center. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had all year!

The laboratory and beyond:

During my second week at the Idaho Fish Health Center I spent time in the laboratory learning how to detect common viruses, bacteria, and parasites in our hatchery fish. I also got to venture into the wilderness again learning how to identify redds (salmon nests) in Newsome creek and find spring Chinook salmon that had returned to spawn. It would take pages to describe everything in words so here are some pictures to help move this entry along!

This is a picture of a fish with Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD). A normal fish would not have the gray lumps on its kidney (blackish organ near the spine) that this fish has. This fish was probably quite sick before it was euthanized!  Dr. Blair, IFHC’s fish veterinarian, guided me through the process of performing an ELISA test (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay) to detect the organism that causes BKD in fish kidneys. IFHC performs these ELISAs to reduce the incidence of BKD in Idaho’s hatchery raised salmonids. BKD can be transmitted from a female spawner to her eggs and among adult fish. To stop the transmission of BKD as early as possible we test for BKD in adult females that we’ve spawned. We then cull their eggs if they test positive to insure that all eggs mature into adult salmon and trout as BKD free as possible. 

In this picture I’m taking kidney samples from a female spring Chinook salmon during spawning at the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery. We took these samples along with samples of ovarian fluids and brought them to the lab to analyze for common fish pathogens. Whenever I ask staff at any hatchery what their favorite part of the job is, they almost always say “spawning.” It’s a fast paced morning of hard work, but there’s always a little time to catch up with old friends and colleagues.  There’s also something wonderful about being a part of an event like this, something that marks the end of one generation of these ancient fish and the beginning of another.

This is a female spring Chinook salmon guarding her redd in Newsome Creek, about two hours from Orofino.  See how beaten up her tail is? The bottom part’s missing and it’s almost gone white. She’s been swishing it back and forth, using all her energy to move dozens of stones larger than her head into a special configuration. Her goal was to create a safe and well ventilated nest for her eggs. Although she’s laid somewhere between 2,000 and 7,000 eggs, only a very small percentage will survive to migrate back to the ocean. A day or two after this photo was taken she probably died, her body providing essential nutrients for the flora and fauna of Idaho’s forests.

I was lucky enough to spend a day of my second week with Laura’s husband Sherm, a fisheries biologist for the Nez Perce tribe. We spent the day counting redds, charting their locations along the creek, and collecting biological data from fish that had already spawned in Newsome Creek. This is done in order to better understand the characteristics of the wild-spawning spring Chinook population. We can figure out, for instance, how many fish are returning to the creek, whether these fish were born in the wild or at a hatchery, their genetic background, and how old they are. This gives us information on how to better support these populations.
It’s thrilling to observe these fish spawning in the wild, whether they’re racing upstream over rills, waiting quietly for other salmon in a deep pool, or lying exhausted over a completed redd. Knowing how far these salmon have come, how many obstacles they’ve faced, and the sacrifice they’ll make in order to ensure the survival of the next generation is also inspiring!
Once again I had a wonderful time at the Idaho Fish Health Center, whether it was in the lab, at the main hatchery or in the field.  Many thanks to Laura, Sherm, Guppy, Corie, Liz , Chelsea, and the staff at the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery for teaching me so much about fish and making me realize how much more there is to learn!

By Christina Der