A cooperative effort of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife seeks to re-establish chum (keta) salmon on the Oregon side of the lower Columbia River.
In April, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) released 106,000 juvenile chum salmon into lower Big Creek in the first phase of project attempting to re-establish the species, which began to disappear from the Oregon side of the river more than 50 years ago. While the reason for their decline is not completely clear, biologists believe that severe habitat degradation, among other factors, played a key role.
The approximately 50 adult chum salmon male and female pairs used to produce the 2½ -inch fry at ODFW’s Big Creek Fish Hatchery were donated to Oregon by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The adults were captured last fall in Grays River, a tributary of the lower Columbia on the Washington side of the river.
“Grays River stock are likely the most genetically similar to what once occupied Big Creek and other lower Columbia tributaries,” said Chris Knutsen, district fish biologist for ODFW’s North Coast Watershed. “We worked closely with our counterparts from WDFW to initiate this program in Oregon. We could not do this without fish from the Washington side of the river.”
If the program works as planned, chum salmon will reproduce naturally in sufficient numbers that they will no longer need a boost from Big Creek Hatchery.
“Our goal is to develop self-sustaining populations of chum salmon on the Oregon side of the lower Columbia,” said Knutsen. If ODFW is able to bring back chum salmon in the lower Columbia using this approach, the same methodology might later be used to reintroduce chum salmon in areas further upstream, he said.