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Conservation

 

Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead -
2007 Forecasts: Spring Chinook, Summer Chinook and Sockeye

 

 

Blackbird Island Kids Fishing /Steelhead Acclimatization Pond

Project Sponsor: Icicle Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Project Location:  Near the town of Leavenworth, Washington, approximately 25 miles west of Wenatchee, Washington, on the Wenatchee River.

Project goal:  To reopen the man-made pond the Icicle Chapter of Trout Unlimited (ICTU) established for juvenile fishing in the year 2000 and enhances the recovery of listed (threatened) Upper Columbia River Steelhead.

Project background: In cooperation with the City of Leavenworth and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the ICTU connected two old barrow pits that were left over from the early 1900s Lamb Davis Mill. ICTU purpose was to create a fishing pond for juveniles in the immediate Leavenworth downtown core. The reason that ICTU and the community felt strongly about this construction was the lack of fishing opportunities for young people in the immediate area. Soon after construction (3 years), it was discovered that water oxygen levels were too low to support fish. Subsequently, WDFW ceased to plant fish into the pond.

Project Proposal: ICTU, along with the WDFW in cooperation with the City of Leavenworth and other interested parties, would like to rehabilitate the pond and develop a multipurpose facility.

Phase 1: Establish a fishing pond that can support fish. This will require a plan to increase oxygen levels above 5 ppm.

Phase 2: Background: Currently, the Upper Columbia River Steelhead is managed by the WDFW under a section 7 permit authorized by the NOOA Fisheries (Federal). Steelhead were listed as "endangered" 12 years ago and the Wenatchee River was closed to sport fishing. In 2006, the Steelhead listing was upgraded to "threatened" which may allow for an incidental take of hatchery Steelhead through a sport fishery. Presently, Steelhead are raised in a hatchery upstream of Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River and are released annually into the Wenatchee River. For the past few years, there have been poor hatchery returns to the Wenatchee River. It appears 40-70% of the hatchery raised Steelhead destined for the Wenatchee River have imprinted on hatchery water upstream of Rocky Reach Dam and are not returning to the Wenatchee River. The goal of the facility is to hold steelhead at the Blackbird (juvenile) pond on Wenatchee River water for a sufficient time for the imprinting process to take place (1-2 months). After the Steelhead have migrated out of the pond, it will resume as a juvenile fish pond.

Information collected from this dual purpose facility will provide scientific information from the imprinting process prior to a major investment by the Chelan County PUD at the Chiwawa Hatchery Complex. Returning adult Steelhead will be a major factor in reopening the Wenatchee River for sports fishing.

Conclusion: Not only will the children of the Upper Valley benefit from the facility being planted with triploid trout (sterile), but individuals will have an opportunity to fish the Wenatchee River once again.

Passed Unanimously by Executive Board on 2-28-07.

From The Wenatchee World April 3, 2008

Group looks to reopen pond closed to fishing since 2003

LEAVENWORTH A group of fishing enthusiasts is trying to re-establish a kids' fishing pond and build a significant steelhead trout-rearing location right off the Wenatchee River. The big problem is there's no water to do it.

The Icicle Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited in 2000 landed an approximately $300,000 state grant to build a recreational fishing pond for kids at two old gravel pits left over from lumbering days in the early 1900s, about 50 feet from the Wenatchee River in downtown Leavenworth. For three years the pond supported trout and kids were able to fish, but in 2003 that changed. Trout Unlimited officials and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered that the oxygen level in the approximately 1-acre, 20-foot-deep pond had dropped below a point where it could support fish. Biologists surmise that leaves falling from surrounding cottonwood trees created a mat on the bottom of the pond that prevented fresh water from the Wenatchee River from seeping in through the ground, delivering oxygen. The pond closed to fishing in 2003.

Now, Trout Unlimited, with the backing of the city of Leavenworth, is trying to restore the pond and make it a suitable spot to raise 53,000 steelhead per year in cooperation with the Chelan County PUD. All Trout Unlimited needs is a pipeline feeder from the nearby Wenatchee River to provide a constant stream of fresh water. To do that, the group needs permission from the state Department of Ecology through the approval of a water rights application, which the group is submitting. Leavenworth Mayor Rob Eaton has endorsed the application with a letter of support.

"We are 100 percent behind the project," Eaton said, speaking for himself and the Leavenworth City Council. "I think it's a great opportunity for residents to learn about fish, to learn about nature. ... It's a wonderful project. In the past it has been a great attribute."

The city could transfer water rights from a city-owned golf course to the Trout Unlimited pond, but Eaton said the direct application of Trout Unlimited to the state provides the "quickest and cleanest" way of bringing water to the pond. Dealing with the transfer of city water rights from the golf course to the pond would entail a longer, more complicated process, Eaton said. Plus, the city and its golf course may end up needing the water rights already granted by the state.

Trout Unlimited has already paid for bringing power to the site to run pumps and other amenities needed to maintain the pond in its earlier efforts.

"Once we receive water we are on our way," said Norm Warford, president of the Icicle Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

"The goal of the facility is to hold steelhead ... on Wenatchee River water for a sufficient time for the imprinting process to take place (one to two months)," according to Trout Unlimited's Web site. "Returning adult steelhead will be a major factor in reopening the Wenatchee River for sports fishing."

After the steelhead are released, the pond would open to children for recreational fishing in the summer, if all goes according to Trout Unlimited's plans. The Chelan County PUD is on board, said Chuck Peven, the PUD's senior fisheries biologist.

The application for water rights could take eight months to a year to process, Eaton said.

Jay Patrick: 664-7155 patrick@wenworld.com

From The Wenatchee World April 3, 2008

A Wenatchee steelhead season every year?
PUD has big plans to re-establish endangered species

By Jay Patrick
World staff writer

LEAVENWORTH Planned changes in the way salmonoid steelhead trout are raised in the upper Columbia River region could increase the numbers of the endangered species, particularly in the Wenatchee River, where a steelhead fishing season opened for the first time in a decade last fall.

The Chelan County PUD plans to stop rearing steelhead in the Columbia River and instead raise them in the Wenatchee River and the Chiwawa River, a tributary that meets the Wenatchee near Plain, said Chuck Peven, the PUD's senior fisheries biologist. As it is, scientists and local sportsman and conservationists say thousands of steelhead released in the upper reaches of the Wenatchee River every spring ignore the river upon returning from their journeys to the ocean. Instead, they pass the mouth of the Wenatchee and continue north up the Columbia, for the most part dropping off the radar of those trying to track the population. Just how many steelhead skip the Wenatchee is uncertain Peven says only that the figure is "more than 25 percent."

Bob Stroup, a founder of the Icicle Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, says the bypass rate is between 50 and 75 percent. While the figures are fuzzy, the two agree that large numbers of steelhead are not bonding with the Wenatchee River as they should.

"Everything's a crapshoot when you work with this," Stroup said, referring to the difficulty in tracking fish populations.

The PUD raises steelhead at several hatcheries in the Columbia River north of Rocky Reach Dam. In the spring, about 400,000 fish are trucked from the Columbia to the upper reaches of the Wenatchee River and released. Ultimately, they swim down the Wenatchee to the Columbia and then out to the Pacific Ocean, where they generally spend two or three years before trying to make it back to spawn. Apparently many of the fish fail to "imprint" on the Wenatchee as intended. They simply don't spend enough time in the river to become used to it and end up not recognizing it as their natural spawning ground.

"It's quite obvious that they are not acclimating to this river," Stroup said. He added, "When fish disappear, how can you calculate what's going on? Where these fish end up is very important."

Some steelhead that bypass the Wenatchee River probably end up trying to spawn in the Entiat, Methow or Okanogan rivers, Peven said. There is no scientific evidence of steelhead ever spawning in the Columbia River, he said.

Last year an estimated 2,649 steelhead returned to the Wenatchee River, but that count is done at Priest Rapids Dam in Grant County near Mattawa, about 50 miles downstream from the confluence of the Wenatchee River and the Columbia River. Biologists, through tags and other markers, are able to guess which upriver tributary the fish will return to. The count at Priest Rapids was high enough for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to give the OK to the state to hold a steelhead season last fall on the Wenatchee River, once a renowned fishing destination, for the first time since 1997.

The counting of steelhead and other species happens at Priest Rapids every year in August and September. In 2006, biologists estimated that 1,800 steelhead came back to the Wenatchee, based on observations at Priest Rapids.

Peven said steelhead intended to spawn in the Wenatchee River that end up bypassing it upon their return don't necessarily die without reproducing successfully.

"Fish aren't going to go to a spot and get lost," Peven said. "They are opportunistic."

Still, what happens to many of the steelhead that swim past the Wenatchee River is a mystery.

Peven said the PUD hopes to be rearing steelhead at an expanded hatchery on the Chiwawa River by 2013. The PUD now rears only salmon on the Chiwawa. In addition to the planned Chiwawa steelhead hatchery, the PUD plans to rear about 53,000 steelhead per year in a pond just feet from the Wenatchee River in Leavenworth. The private organization Trout Unlimited is working to make the pond suitable for raising steelhead (see accompanying article). With much more time spent in the Wenatchee River, Stroup said steelhead will be much more likely to return. That's the PUD's idea, as well.

"We're hoping fish come back to the Wenatchee to a much higher degree," Peven said.

The steelhead population in the upper Columbia River region has been rising in recent years, according to a 2005 report by NOAA. The average from 1992 to 1996 was 7,800, with 2,200 of those wild. From 1997 to 2001, the average steelhead return counted at Priest Rapids was 12,900 total, with 1,040 wild.

Upper Columbia River steelhead basics

Steelhead spawn in the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow and Okanogan rivers.
Adults return to the upper Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean in late summer and early fall.
Spawning happens in late spring.
Juveniles spend between one and seven years in fresh water before swimming to the Pacific Ocean.
Most steelhead return to their spawning grounds after one or two years at sea.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

 

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