KELLER – Standing a few feet in the Sanpoil River, Andy Joseph Jr., Chairman for the Colville Confederated Tribes Business Council, watched the chinook salmon he was about to release be passed down the line of people – hand to hand - to him.

As the fish got closer, his son Charlie Joseph had the honors of handing the chinook off to him.

Once into the river, the salmon squirmed and flopped around eventually swimming off as Andy and Charlie watched it disappear into the dark blue water. 

Both were able to share that unforgettable moment.

“Yes, it is very special for so many reasons,” said Charlie Joseph, who works for the Colville Tribal Fish and Wildlife Department Resident Fish Division.  “The salmon themselves had no voice or choice when the dams were built, but every year since they still come up the river and try to get back to where they belong.”

In their efforts to reintroduce salmon upstream of the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, CTFW accomplished another huge milestone this past week releasing 120 adult chinook salmon into the Sanpoil River at three different locations, Aug. 12.

Roughly 50 people attended the first release ceremony at the Sanpoil Community Park where 60 chinook would end up being released, ranging in the size from 12 to 16 pounds each.

“I want to thank everyone who helped with this Salmon release this morning at Keller Park,” said Andy Joseph Jr.

The tricky part is getting the salmon out of the tanker truck and down to the river.

That’s where extra hands would be needed as those in attendance formed an assembly line from the tanker all the way to the river.

The salmon were than netted out by two CTFW workers and than another CTFW worker would take the chinook and transport them in a rubber boot like container.

From there, the container was passed by hand from one person to the other down the line until the chinook reached the water and were eventually released.

At the first location, Jack Ferguson, Colville Confederated Tribal Business Councilman, had the honors of releasing the first salmon back into the river.

“Thank you all for being here,” Ferguson said.

Soon after, Charlie Joseph would take over and would release a bulk of the chinook into the Sanpoil River.

The next two locations would be over 20 miles north of the first release spot at Thirty Mile road where 30 chinook would be released at two different bridges about a mile apart.

Colville tribal member Kristen Brudevold, who works for the CTFW Department, would get the honors of releasing 30 of the Chinooks at the northern most location.

“Being San Poil and being able to help reintroduce salmon to an area they have been extirpated from for nearly a century has been a memorable experience,” said Brudevold. “Participating in salmon release events is always a joyous and prideful experience. You can't help but leave with a happy heart as you realize the salmon might be able to swim all the way home in your lifetime.”

Just a mile down the road from where Brudevold tossed in 30 chinooks, Colville tribal member Darnell Sam wanted to say a pray over the last chinook to be released as he had the honor of seeing the fish swim off. 

“I know that our ancestors are happy today,” said Sam.

This is the CTFW Department’s ninth release of chinook Salmon since August 2019 and they plan on having a lot more releases in the future.

“Transporting them like we do is a big deal and a good thing, but it is a small step to getting salmon to run more naturally,” said Charlie Joseph. “I know the land, the plants and animals above the dams (which blocked the natural salmon run) have been denied these many years of the salmons’ return and missed out on the bounty of marine derived nutrients.”

During the summer months of 2019 and 2020, CTFW released hundreds of adult chinook salmon into the waters of the blocked area (above both Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams) along with supporting ceremonies and implementing studies to evaluate fish performance and their behavior.

“I think that us helping the salmons return will help many things both spiritually and biologically for the land, the plants and the animals,” says Charlie Joseph. “All these things which we are a part of, but we have to keep using our voice and follow up with our actions to restore things to balance.”

Below is a list of all CTFW salmon releases:

August 2019:

  • Salmon Release Ceremony at Rufus Woods Campground (30 adult Chinook)
  • Salmon Release Ceremony at Keller/Sanpoil Arm    (30 adult Chinook)
  • Salmon Release Ceremony at Kettle Falls      (30 adult Chinook)
  • Movement, behavior, tracking survival, acoustic study at Lake Rufus Woods  (59 adult Chinook)

September 2019:

  • Cultural release, production, ecological restoration at Lake Rufus Woods (93 adult Chinook)

July 2020:

  • Movement, behavior, survival, acoustic, tracking study Lake Roosevelt (50 adult Chinook)

August 2020:

  • Survival, spawning study, ecological restoration at Sanpoil River (100 adult Chinook)

July 2021:

  • Survival, spawning study, ecological restoration, at Sanpoil River (119 adult Chinook)

August 2021:

  • Salmon Cultural Release at Keller Park and Sanpoil River (120 adult Chinook)

Information comprised by the Colville Confederated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department

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