Friday, March 22, 2013

Being a Good Neighbor Makes Idaho Hatchery Shine Bright:

Dworshak Fish Hatchery receives Station of the Year Award

You may remember back in August that the main water line from Dworshak Dam to Clearwater State Fish Hatchery was damaged (see October 15, 2012 post for details). The water line needed to be shut down in order to investigate and repair the damage. This left Clearwater Hatchery in short water supply. In order to save their 2011 brood of Spring Chinook, 2.5 million fish, Clearwater needed to find some water. Since Dworshak Fish Hatchery is right across the river from Clearwater Hatchery it was the logical place to look.
Spring Chinook Salmon fingerlings

Both hatcheries can share reservoir water, but most of Dworshak’s water comes from the North Fork Clearwater River, about a mile below the Dam. The river water comes with its share of problems- the biggest is IHNV, a virus that can be deadly to steelhead. This is why Clearwater Hatchery uses disease free reservoir water as its sole water source. Pumping river water to Clearwater Hatchery was not an option, but moving their fish to Dworshak was.

Clearwater Hatchery transferring juvenile Chinook to Dworshak
Planning and preparing for the fish move was tough and took a lot of teamwork. With help from the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Lower Snake River Compensation Program, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers, we were able to prepare 25 Burrow’s ponds, improve our waste water system to accommodate the additional fish, modify our drain lines to handle the additional water use and move 2.5 million juvenile Spring Chinook from the Clearwater Hatchery to Dworshak in less than two weeks.

Lucas and John feed the Clearwater Chinook
Over the winter there has been a cadre of IDF&G staff at Dworshak taking care of their Chinook and helping out with a continuous list of projects and daily maintenance. They have become part of the Dworshak team helping trouble shoot our ever changing cleaning operations; always willing to lend a hand.

This week the Clearwater Chinook smolts are being trucked off-station for release as they begin their long migration downriver to the ocean. Mark Drobish, Hatchery Manager at Dworshak Fish Hatchery said, “It’s all about rearing healthy fish at our hatcheries and this effort was truly one of team spirit, quick action and cooperation between state, federal, and tribal agencies to take a crisis and turn it into a success story.

Trucks lined up and ready to be loaded

Pumping Chinook onto a truck

Releasing Chinook smolts to the Selway River
Chinook smolts getting used to their home in the wild
The Lower Snake River Compensation Program (LSRCP) recognized Dworshak Fish Hatchery’s efforts by awarding them the Station of the Year Award. Without the coordination, cooperation and effort from multiple agencies Clearwater Hatchery would have lost all those salmon. That not only would have been tragic for the hatchery, but for the Tribal and sports fishermen that utilize this resource, and for the countless animals that depend on these fish.

Dworshak Complex Staff

by Angela Feldmann

Friday, March 15, 2013

Keeping Pulse with the Seasons

You may not think that a hatchery is a place that moves with the seasons. Especially a place like Dworshak, the asphalt, concrete, and steel don’t conger thoughts of natural processes. By design a hatchery is built to keep fish in and keep their natural predators out.  But when you look beyond the man-made ponds and the bird-netted enclosures, when you look at the fish that are reared here, you can see there is a rhythm that is followed. Winter, spring, summer, and fall all hold specific milestones for each brood of fish reared here. 


Chinook Alevin
Like the stillness after a snowfall, winter is a time of calm and preparation at the hatchery. Chinook eggs hatch and alevin quietly develop in the darkness of the incubators. Juvenile Chinook and Steelhead feedings decrease as the water temperature drops and days shorten.  Hatchery staff use the winter months to prepare the nursery for the busy spring by completing annual maintenance and preparing the 128 tanks for steelhead fry arriving in March. Winter is also the time that staff PIT tag our juvenile steelhead, Coho, and Chinook. Of course steelhead spawning begins in winter but is also one of the signals that spring is on its way.


Out-planting steelhead smolts
As the days lengthen and the osprey arrive the pulse of the hatchery begins to pick up. Our Juvenile fish are smolting, ready to make the journey to the great Pacific. Their release is timed as the spring rains, and snow run off raise the water in the Clearwater River. Almost simultaneously the Chinook fry are ready to be ponded. It’s a mad dash to clean, upgrade, and prepare the raceways for the hungry fry. The steelhead eggs that were spawned in the winter are eyed up and ready to be moved into the nursery. Earlier takes have hatched and are ready to start feeding. Like busy bees tending a hive, hatchery staff feed the baby fish 8 times a day, 7 days a week. There is a lot of spring cleaning going on too. Because of all the feed, nursery tanks require daily cleaning. Chinook raceways are cleaned at least three times a week. All the empty Burrows Ponds need to be cleaned and disinfected before the next brood of steelhead can be ponded outside. As spring transitions to summer the Kings of the Clearwater, the Spring Chinook, make their first appearance.


Splitting Steelhead
Opening the fish ladder
Now the sun is high in the sky. The days are long and hot; we are all wishing that the Dworshak asphalt was lawn and the Burrow’s ponds were swimming pools. The fish ladder is opened for the first time since March. We begin trapping Adult Chinook and preparing the incubators for their progeny. The steelhead and Chinook that were ponded in the spring are growing like gangbusters and are beginning to outgrow their homes. Summer is when fish in the nursery are moved outside. The tagging crew is here marking fingerlings as hatchery fish by the removal of their adipose fin. The fish grow even more. They outgrow their homes again! Now the crew splits fish from one Burrows pond or raceway into three. The transferring, marking, growing and splitting continue into fall. 


Chinook Spawning
The pace is beginning to slow, a little. There are Chinook and Coho to be spawned though. We spawn Chinook in September and Coho in October. We keep the eggs on chilled water to make sure they develop in tune with their natural cycle. The eggs will slowly and quietly develop through the fall hatching as fall rolls into winter. Things truly begin to slow down. The fish that are outside aren’t eating quite as much. The nursery is empty. The daily feeding and cleaning schedule lightens. Demand feeders for steelhead come out. The osprey leave, the eagles arrive. Was that a snowflake?

Photos and text by: Angela Feldmann 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Returning to the Clearwater

One of the most common questions we get at the Hatchery is, “What happens to the Steelhead after they are spawned?”
Rob Bohn puts a female steelhead onto the transfer truck

There are several ways we distribute steelhead after spawning. If the fish were killed for spawning and are in good shape we donate them to our local food bank (see Maximizing Use of the Resource) or use the fish for anatomy lessons at our Hatchery in the Classroom schools (see Something Fishy). But if the fish is live spawned- like we have been doing the past few weeks for the kelt project- we out-plant them back into the Clearwater River. 
A few anglers taking advantage of a beautiful day on the Clearwater River

Out-planting is just a fancy way of saying we put the fish back into the river. There the steelhead can complete its life cycle and also be available for Tribal or sport harvest. 

Today we returned 437 adult steelhead back to the Clearwater River. Some of these fish had been held at the hatchery for a few weeks but never ripened. Others were unclipped “wild” steelhead that came up the fish ladder. These fish are now free to spawn in the River and contribute to the natural steelhead population. Perhaps they will spawn and return to the ocean as kelts. All the fish that were spawned at the Hatchery and returned to the Clearwater today were PIT tagged so their journey either up river to the South Fork, or down river through Lower Granite Dam, can be tracked. 

Whatever their fate, the fish are back in nature. 

by Angela Feldmann