Upper Columbia hatchery set to be operational in May

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Here is the latest fishing report from Dave Graybill, longtime Eastern Washington outdoor radio host and angler:

The plan for the Colville Confederated Tribes to build a new hatchery began 10 years ago. If construction continues on schedule the facility will be operational by May of 2013. The completion of the project will not only mean the return of harvestable salmon to the Colville Tribal members, but thousands of additional salmon available to recreational fishermen on the main stem Columbia and the Okanogan rivers.

I recently traveled to Bridgeport and met with Pat Phillips, manager of the new hatchery, and he gave me and Eric Granstrom a tour of the new facility. He stressed the importance of the Bonneville Power Administration’s funding of the project is to Colville Tribal members.

“Prior to the construction of the dams on the Columbia River, sixty percent of the diet of the tribes in this region was salmon,” said Phillips. “When the dams went in the salmon went away. Imagine today, if beef was removed from the tables of the American public, what that would be like. When we are in full production and we get the returns of spring and summer run Chinook salmon that are projected, salmon can once again be an important food source, and salmon will again be an important cultural element in tribal society. The completion of this project is a major step in this direction.” This is the fourth hatchery promised the tribes in an accord to replace lost salmon runs. The other hatcheries are in Leavenworth, Entiat and Winthrop.

The new hatchery in Bridgeport is on the north shore of the Columbia River, just below Chief Joseph Dam. It will produce both spring and summer-run salmon in significant numbers. These fish will be available to recreational anglers as they move up the Columbia River, and fish in excess of hatchery needs will be harvested and distributed to tribal members.

The hatchery has the capacity to produce 700,000 spring salmon from Leavenworth Hatchery stock. An additional 300,000 experimental spring salmon will be produced from Winthrop Hatchery stock, for introduction to the Okanogan River. This represents the first run of spring salmon the Okanogan River has ever had.

There will be 800,000 yearling summer-run salmon produced at the hatchery and acclimated at ponds in the Okanogan River; one at Riverside and the other at Omak. An additional 100,000 “sub yearlings” will also be produced. The sub yearlings are important as although their survival rate is lower than yearlings. They are most often the five-year fish in a run that are large, robust, and add a desirable dimension to the run. Also released directly from the hatchery at Bridgeport will be an additional 500,000 yearling summer-run Chinook, and 400,000 sub yearling summer run-Chinook.

When the hatchery goes on line in May of 2013 they will be busy preparing fish for release in 2014. Fish will begin showing up as early as the following year, but the first year that anglers can expect to see the impact of the hatchery production will be in 2017. That’s when returns of both spring and summer fish will in their four-year cycle. That will be the year that the tribal members should be able to celebrate.

Harvestable numbers of salmon will distributed to them. Anglers all along the Columbia River will celebrate, too, as ever higher numbers of salmon move up the river. The results of the first-ever substantial returns of spring salmon to the Okanogan are anticipated as well.

The continued consistent excellent recreational salmon fishing in the Upper Columbia River is going to have significant impact in the region. We have seen investment to accommodate the rise in sport fishing in this area already in Pateros with the addition of the Pateros Lakeshore Inn. The communities of Pateros, Brewster and Bridgeport will see increased traffic to the area as more and more anglers come to take advantage of robust returns of summer-run salmon. With the addition of spring salmon returns to the area, this traffic will accelerate. The economic benefit of sport fishing is already being realized. Due to the addition of the production from Colville Hatchery the future is bright in Okanogan County.

The construction of such a facility is complicated. The master plan was presented in 2001, and is just now reaching completion. It would not have happened without the co-operation of a multitude of agencies. The primary funding for the 50 million dollar project is the Bonneville Power Administration. The Grant County Public Utility District contributed ten million dollars.

Pat Phillips spent 21 years with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in hatcheries and before becoming manager of this new project was the hatchery manager of the Wells Dam Hatchery Complex. His wife, Jill, is also a hatchery manager for the Colville Tribe, at the facility just a couple of miles down stream from the new Bridgeport hatchery. Jill Phillips spent ten years with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries and has managed the tribal facility for three years.

Phillips mentioned that a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for July 19th at the new hatchery. There will be dignitaries from as far away as Washington D.C. in attendance. There will be much to celebrate at this event. The Colville Tribe has a lot to be proud of with this new, state of the art facility. It will mean a great deal to their tribal members and their culture. The communities in the vicinity of the project will be celebrating the return of salmon to the area for many years to come. Sport anglers all along the Columbia River will be celebrating right along with them.

For details or to get Graybill’s weekly report visit Dave Graybill’s website.

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