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NW Fishletter #375, November 6, 2017

[6] Snake River Steelhead Get Boost From Tribal Kelt Program

Although only about 500 female B-run steelhead will return to Snake River spawning grounds this year, the release of 100 steelhead kelts from a Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission program increases the number of spawners by 20 percent.

Kelts are steelhead that have spawned at least once and attempt downstream migration to the ocean as adults.

The kelts released below Lower Granite Dam Oct. 24 were collected at the dam on their outmigration during spring 2016 and 2017 and transported to the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery in Idaho where they were fed and allowed to recover and re-mature, a CRITFC news release said.

According to Doug Hatch, CRITFC senior fisheries scientist and project leader, this BPA-funded steelhead restoration or reconditioning project "is beneficial every year, but absolutely critical in low-return years like this one."

After six to 18 months in reconditioning, the females ready to spawn again are returned to the river.

"Nearly all steelhead survive after spawning, but challenges such as river conditions and the Columbia/Snake hydro system impact survival.

"Only about half of each year's steelhead run returns to Lower Granite Dam, the first dam they encounter on their migration back to the ocean. Only a tiny fraction (about 0.4 percent of the Snake River run are kelts) survive to repeat another spawning cycle," the news statement said.

The 2008-2014 BiOp for the Federal Columbia River Power System calls for a 6-percent improvement in Snake River B-run steelhead productivity by reconditioning kelt steelhead and/or improving in-stream passage through the hydro system.

The 6-percent goal would increase the Lower Granite ladder count of B-run steelhead by 180 returning fish.

The tribe and CRITFC will complete construction on a kelt restoration hatchery in 2018. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved funding for the project in January 2017.

For this year's 100-fish release, the two entities used facilities they had developed for the project's research and development phase that began in 2008.

The Snake River kelt program is an adaptation of a similar program operated on the Yakima River by the Yakama Nation and CRITFC.

"Programs like these that take an innovative approach to recovery are how we, as a region, can make real progress in salmon and steelhead recovery," said CRITFC Executive Director Jaime Pinkham. -Laura Berg

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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