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Steelhead smolts escape Lyons Ferry Hatchery

STARBUCK — Approximately 64% of the Lyons Ferry Hatchery Wallowa summer steelhead stock has been lost due to equipment failure.

Hatchery workers lost roughly 249,770 steelhead smolts late last week, officials said, noting the smolts escaped a rearing pond and made their way into the mainstem Snake River.

This loss accounts for about 64% of Lyons Ferry Hatchery’s Wallowa stock summer steelhead production for release in 2022, officials said. The loss is less than 8% of the overall hatchery steelhead production in the Snake River basin.

Hatchery workers became aware of a failure in a rotating screen system and rubber gasket meant to retain fish within a rearing pond when they lowered the water level in late January to collect fish for transport to Cottonwood Acclimation Pond on the Grande Ronde River.

“We share a deep concern alongside anglers and community members for the loss of these steelhead smolts,” state Department of Fisha nd Wildlife Eastern Regional Fisheries Manager Chris Donley said. “We remain committed to pursuing improved equipment and shifting to more frequent servicing to safeguard from equipment failures like this one going forward.”

The gasket, which operates under about 6 feet of water and isn’t readily visible without drawing down the rearing pond, deteriorated, leaving a 1.5-inch gap between the pond outlet and the rotating screen, he said. Fish used this gap to escape the rearing pond.

Prior routine assessments to the rotating screen and gasket area didn’t indicate equipment failure or any fish losses, he said. The failed gasket was serviced annually and had been newly installed in August 2021.

The loss of these smolts will likely be undetectable in adult harvest in the mainstem Columbia River and Snake River mixed-stock steelhead fisheries, due to the large number of fish released from facilities above Lower Granite dam and elsewhere in the basin, officials said.

However, catch-and-harvest reductions will be detectable in the Touchet River and possibly in the Grande Ronde River, officials said.

On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, hatchery staff transported the remaining 135,230 Wallowa stock steelhead smolts to the Cottonwood Acclimation Pond for the remainder of the winter.

They will be released into the Grande Ronde River in April.

Officials said the majority of these smolts will spend one year in the ocean and return to the Columbia basin as adult steelhead in summer or fall of 2023. Fishery managers estimate that the Cottonwood Acclimation Pond release will be 90,000 smolts short of program goals.

There will be no Wallowa stock steelhead smolt releases at Dayton Acclimation Pond, or on-station at Lyons Ferry this spring, officials said.

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Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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