A sub-yearling Chinook from the San Poil River.

NESPELEM In the past few days, a number of sub-yearling chinook salmon have been captured in a rotary screw trap located in the Sanpoil River which is upstream of Grand Coulee Dam.  This is great news as adult salmon were reintroduced to this river in 2020. 

The screw trap was set up by staff from the Colville Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Department to monitor out-migrating Redband trout.  The trap is located near the mouth of the river, close to where the river meets the Lake Roosevelt reservoir.

“We operate the screw trap from May until November and we’ve captured sub-yearling chinook on their way to Lake Roosevelt,” said Holly McLellan, principal biologist for CTFW. “The first fish we captured was 93 mm long. We PIT tagged it and released it back into the river. The chinook will continue its migration downstream to the ocean.  If it survives migrating past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, then we will be able to detect it as it migrates downstream.  Both Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams do not have PIT tag arrays but all of the other major downstream dams do. We will continue to PIT tag all juvenile chinook greater than 65 mm in length that we capture.”

Casey Baldwin, research scientist for CTFW said, “It is exciting to document successful salmon reproduction in the Sanpoil River after such a long absence. We knew that the adult salmon were effective at spawning last fall, but seeing the juveniles in this spring sampling really proves that the effort to reintroduce salmon has a lot of potential.”

Last August, 100 adult chinook were trapped at Wells Fish Hatchery, tested for pathogens, then transported in a truck and released into the Sanpoil River.  Each fish was PIT tagged to track their movements.  In October, staff walked the stream and counted 36 redds or egg nests that were within about 6 miles of the release sites.  The work last fall indicated that the majority of the salmon appeared to have stayed in the area, survived and spawned.

“It is exciting that our fisheries department has identified 70 juveniles that were the result of our cultural releases of salmon in the Columbia and the Sanpoil Rivers,” said Chairman of the Colville Business Council Rodney Cawston.  “With the construction of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, our people were separated from tradition and loss of salmon populations had a large impact on our people. Our people feel they have never intentionally relinquished their rights to the resources and fishing practices that historically have been a significant part of our lives.” He said, “The identification of over 30 redds and 70 hatched juvenile salmon brings us hope to preserve our culture and to teach future generations about salmon and how to respect our natural and cultural resources.”

The Colville Confederated Tribes have been working closely with the Upper Columbia United Tribes and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to pursue a phased approach to reintroducing salmon in the blocked areas upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.  Phase 1 is complete and included science and feasibility evaluations and Phase 2 is currently being worked on. This phase will include multiple studies to test feasibility and determine the best path forward to continue reintroduction efforts of moving salmon into the blocked areas.

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