Raising Salmon
in a RSI
(Remote Site Incubator)
 

 

 

Volunteer Salmon Egg / Fry Rearing ;  This article will try to document one man's effort to help mother nature.  His name is Errol Anderson.  He is running a Remote Site Incubator (RSI) and has been securing eyed Coho salmon eggs from the Washington State Salmon hatchery at Bingham Creek off the Satsop River in Western Washington since 1983.  After these eggs hatch, the small fry are then released in Deep Creek, a watershed of the upper Chehalis River. 

 

His profession for many years was a timber faller, which involved long hours riding to the logging site and back along with putting in a days work.  Later he worked at the Centralia Steam plant, which was closer to home.  All of this did not slow him down in regards to seeing that the fish were taken care of.  After his retirement, things got a bit easier as then he could plan around the management of his tree farm.

 

Here is the man behind this project

 

The year 2009 saw a change with the eggs then being supplied by the Washington State Salmon hatchery on the Skookumchuck River.   The rules are that fish/eggs from one watershed can not be moved to another, so since these hatcheries are both on tributaries of the main Chehalis River then it is OK, and the Skookumchuck hatchery being upstream, and a lot closer to Deep Creek.

 

He took over the project that was being ended when the Westport Trollers Assn. wanted out, probably because of the amount of traveling/work involved after the eggs were placed in the egg boxes.  One of these sites being very near his home, he made some contacts and the location was transferred to him.  The first 4 years he took 50,000 eggs each year.   After that, in looking for better infeed water, he increased the number of RSI boxes to 3 and which evolved into the quantity of eggs being upped to 100,000.   He is still operating the 3 the sites on the same drainage, plus adding another to a small tributary, again looking for an alternate adequate water source.  He has replaced the original and replacement plywood boxes as they deteriorated.   In the late summer of 2006 he replaced 2 of the plywood boxes with plastic 300 gallon cattle watering tanks.   In the fall of 2007 he added another plastic tank site in a small side creek right along the county road where anyone can stop and look at the progress.

 

Now that he is retired, he a neighbor along with a cousin watch over each of his egg boxes daily (sometimes 3 times a day when the water is up and muddy) during the incubation period to be sure there is no water problems when they are in the process of hatching out.

 

Initially when he saw that the returning salmon to the Deep Creek drainage in Lewis County were declining he wanted to see that they did not become a thing of the past.   Some of this was because of beaver dams, and or low water flow in the creek at the wrong time for salmon to pass upstream.  He was born and raised in this area so can remember years past when the upper reaches of this creek had many salmon spawning there around Thanksgiving time.  He also remembers a few steelhead in the creek.

 

Over the years he has improved the the habitat, created riffles and better spawning areas which generally helped mother nature in stream restoration.

 

The Main Ingredient Needed :  These eggs are obtained from returning Coho from the Bingham Creek salmon hatchery off the Satsop River, which is a tributary of the Chehalis River.   Deep Creek is also a tributary of the Chehalis River, only a lot farther upstream.  The hatchery will take an average of 2,800 eggs from each female Coho salmon.  They are fertilized then left in the incubation trays until eyed up.   Then they are hand sorted for dead or defective eggs.   At this point, Errol gets a call from the hatchery manager, then transports them home to his egg boxes.

 

For any RSI to function the main need is to have enough of a flow of clean water from the middle of December for about 2 months to where the eggs hatch, then get large enough that they naturally move out by themselves into these smaller streams and on into the main creek. 

 

Incubation trays in the hatchery 20,000 eyed eggs per tray Initial sorting dead eggs using salt solution
Sorting out bad or dead eggs      Determining weight of known number of eggs Weighing out 25,000 eggs

 

The eggs are usually procured by him from the hatchery about mid December, the 13th in the year 2005 with December 12th 2007 and December 17th in 2015.  The initial process to get these eggs thru WDFW Fish Management is quite involved.  It may even be near impossible for someone new to be able to start up a program like this in today's bureaucracy world. 

 

Once the eggs are eyed up, and the phone call is made to come pick them up, the hatchery workers will transfer them from the incubation trays to tanks where running water just covers the eggs.  As seen in the above 2 baskets, the front basket has been picked over, has had the dead or non-fertilized eggs removed, while the rear basket has not yet have not been picked over as evidenced by the lighter colored eggs.

 

Eyed eggs going into wet burlap bags Signing off 100,000 eggs loaded in wet burlap bags

 

They are transferred into wet burlap bags at the hatchery in preparation to transportation.   At that eyed stage, they are not as susceptible to to handling, and can be removed from the water for a short period of time, but still need to be kept wet during the transportation to the egg boxes.  If they are handled before this eyed stage, they will die.

 

Enter The RSI Egg Boxes :  In use, for the RSI boxes, the intake water enters the bottom of the above blue plastic tank that is full of washed gravel about the size of  SMALL chicken eggs.   This acts as a collection tank and a primary filter.   Here in the center picture below, he is pointing to the clean-out plug, which flushes the inlet line and back flushes the collection tank also.  The outlet is on the top which then goes into the bottom of the main egg box.   The second PVC pipe going down, feeds water to a second box if applicable. 

 

The intake must have screening (shown below in the left photo) to keep leaves along with other debris or sediment from getting in, plugging up either the intake itself, or internally inside the boxes.  There has to be enough fall in the creek to allow for enough pressure to guarantee flow enough to keep the eggs covered with fresh water.   Two of his intakes are only 50' long, while another is 600'.

 

Protected water intake upstream Inlet settlement tank filled with washed gravel, water goes in the bottom & out the top Outlet of one of the old wooden egg boxes, the capped pipes in the bottom are for flushing out accumulated silt


Above are pictures of the actual old style wooden egg boxes.   He has placed them in strategic locations where there is small streams off the main creek and yet on private property so as to avoid any chance of vandalism.   A few minutes by vandals could ruin a whole year's returns.  These original boxes were made from plywood, but he upgraded for the 2007 eggs with a new series being made from 8'  300 gallon oval plastic cattle watering troughs shown below.   

 

In the center photo below his water intake line running upstream about 600' became plugged with silt, so during the interim, the water into this box was being pumped in by a electric sump pump shown hanging off a pole over the creek.  The only drawback here is he needs to watch closely for power outages and rapidly get his portable generator into operation,

 

The old wooden tank system The new plastic tank system in the same location as the photo on the left Here he is loading eggs in one of the new boxes

 

Inside the inlet bottom of the egg box, the main inlet line splits into 4 smaller 1/2" PVC lines that have hundreds of small holes drilled to dissipate the water over the whole egg box.  The egg box is then also filled with washed river rock the same as the collection tank.  It is filled with these rocks so that there is about 4" of flowing water over the rocks.  On the lower outlet end of the egg box, these 4 PVC pipes extend out with caps placed on them.   Here he can unscrew the caps, and again drain out any sediment.   On the plywood boxes, the other large cap in the center is only used for draining the tank when the hatching season is over.  


You will notice that there are plywood covers over these egg boxes.  The one thing the young fish do not like is lots of sunlight. Plus these covers give a added measure of protection from predators, like Raccoons. 

 

Placing eggs into the box Flushing any sediment out of the bottom of the rocks while the eggs are hatching Hatched eggs or Alevin.  Here the egg sacks are shown attached to the body, & soon they will be heading into the gravel for about another 2 months

 

The water needs to have a steady flow over the eggs to insure they survive.  If too much sediment gets into the box, it can smother the eggs.  This sediment can be somewhat of a problem if the water is discolored as even his filtering and flushing may not take all the fine sediment out.   If sediment to any degree settles over the unhatched eggs it then may be best to stir up this water above them, trying to have the sediment float upwards then possibly out the overflow.  In the upper right picture below the sediment is about maximum and still have the majority of the eggs survive.  Jan 4th, most of the eggs are hatched with the red being the egg sack attached to the young fish body.  When this picture was taken, about 80% of the eggs have hatched and have already moved down into the gravel.  

 

It will take about another 3 to 5  weeks before they consume the sack then move up out of the rocks and then migrate out of the box.

 

Emerging fry from the rocks

Lots of fry in catch barrel for relocation, & this number moved out of the box just overnight

Possibly 5000 fry in 5 gallon bucket ready to be relocated into the upper creek

 

 

 

February 18th fry were observed emerging from the rocks in 2005, but not until the middle of March in 2007.  The date of emergence was February 14th on one box and March 8th in another in 2008.  Water temperature is the factor here with one of his sites typically being about a week ahead of the other.   This one has just a slight bit more of exposure to the sun, like an open valley as compared to the tributary the site is on being tucked right up against the north side of a steep hillside.

 

At this stage when they emerge, they are about 1 1/2" long.  If he wants for all of these fry to go into the creek, he just lets them go out the overflow and into the tributary and then on into the creek on their own.  

 

Development of Coho Eggs :  Shown below is the development of eggs.  The 2nd vial has eyed eggs at day 30, of which not all are visible in this photo below.  At day 55 they have evolved to hatched with the egg sac still attached (or Alevin stage), at which time they move down into the gravel of these egg boxes.  They stay there until about day 120 when they emerge and are ready to head out into the cruel world.

 

Water temperature plays a role in the actual number of days, colder water will take a little longer for the process to take place.  The formula to calculate this is to use the difference of water temperature above freezing and add that together would be degree days or Temperature Unit.  For the eggs to eye up after fertilization takes about 500 degree days.  They will hatch at about 750 degree days and be ready to be on their own at 1200.   So we got them at a TU of 658 in 2015 and the water temperature was 43 degrees, each day would equate to 11 TUs.  From this we can calculate their hatch timing.

 

Since we have three RSI boxes, (basically to spread our chances of a water problem and possibly loose some fish) we also see a slight difference in water temperature, which is probably one small creek has a more open valley that has better exposure to what minimal sunlight we get during the winter.  But it is just enough warmer to allow that RSI box to hatch it's eggs out about 5 days before the others.

 

Development of Coho salmon eggs from day 1 of fertilization to emerged fry.

 

Move Fry To Better Rearing Areas :  However if he wants to transport some of them to other locations above this site, he then captures them in a catch basin.  The overflow from the rock egg box was ran into a cut off 50 gallon barrel which acts as a catch basin for when the fry voluntarily leave the box.    In this 1/2 barrel there are many small holes drilled around the top, or lined with screen, about 3" down from the top.   These holes let the overflow water (that carried the fry into the barrel) drain out but yet retain the fry.  When there are enough fish to transfer into 5 gallon buckets, they are then taken by a pickup truck or 4 wheel drive quads to the upper reaches of the same creek where there are small beaver dams and holding areas for the fry to make their home for a while.  Everything has to be ready and the distance to their new home can not be over a couple of miles as the quickness of getting them back into the water is paramount in that this many fry will use up the available oxygen rather quickly. 

 

Filling the 3rd bucket with fry.   Notice the 2 white buckets already full of fry.  Note the color of the water after a rain Dumping the fry into the upper part of the main creek, below a culvert to disperse the fish better Dumping more fry, but this time LeeRoy fell IN the creek face-first, but maintained control of the bucket of fry.  So being wet at that point, he just finished the job from there
     

 

This small stream above the egg box area does not have many gravel locations to allow spawning to take place and or be very productive.   But it is good raising water farther upstream for the fry, once they are transferred there.   With these buckets that full of fry, we have to work fast as there is only about 15 minutes of oxygen for them in the buckets.

 

There are cool alder shaded pools, beaver dams upstream with excellent water for these fry to spend the next months in before heading for the downstream.

 

Here are 2 paired up salmon spawning on a riffle below one egg box These 2 salmon are resting  below a riffle, next to the bank in the brush A lone spawned out salmon above a riffle.   Note all the sores on her top fins, tail & body

 

Returning Fish :   The earliest we have seen returning salmon in the main creek was October 31 2009.  There was just over 3" of rain fall in the preceding 10 days plus another 1 3/4" during the previous 2 weeks, which was enough to bring the fish in from the ocean and lower river.  There was not really enough water in the side creeks where Errol has the egg boxes for the fish.  Plus one side creek did not have enough water to guarantee egg survival at that time.

 

The first day salmon returned in 2005 was December 26th as shown in above LH picture after there had slightly over 5" of rain in the 8 days just prior.   The picture in the middle was taken 2 days later with another 1" of rain pushing the water higher and muddier.    The picture on the RH side was taken a year later.  When there are rains enough to have enough water for the fish to return and spawn, it is many times higher and muddier than hoped for to take good pictures.

 

The earliest he has seen returning salmon was October 27th , 2010 when there was almost 3" of rain in 4 days.

 

In 2013 November 7th through the 9th there was just over 1 3/4" of rain in 3 days, raising the river 3.6' to a river height at the Adna gage station of 193.7'.  These Coho had been staging at the mouth of the creek for over 3 weeks after the last small amount of rain.  This new rain allowed enough water for the Coho to run up the creeks, and he saw 8 salmon spawning below his house.

 

Prime spawning gravel on the head of the main creek, but not enough water at the right time of the year to allow fish to pass up to it One lone sore-back spawned out female left guarding her Redd in the center of the photo

 

The above LH picture was taken about Thanksgiving, but there had been no rain for some time with the creek was so low that if the fish were in the main river there was not enough water for passage to the upper section of the creek.   These fish need a stream bed that has enough gravel for them to spawn in.  If it is just mud or silt, even if they do spawn, the eggs will smother and die.

 

The RH picture was taken Jan 4th, with most all the fish spawned out and dead, with this one lone female left kind of guarding her redd (the depression she dug with her tail where she deposited her eggs).   She has a lot of whitish sores on her back and fins which about all you can distinguish her by.

 

Errol's home sits on the stream bank overlooking one of his egg boxes.  The day he called, saying the salmon were back, from his porch we counted about 10 salmon in the process of spawning in the 100 yard area next to his house.   In these pictures, the red colored fish is the male.   These fish appear to be in good shape as there are no worn tails or dorsal fins that can start decaying and turn whitish.  However some of these pictures were taken 2 days later with the whitish fins have began to show.  If there are more males than females, the males will fight over being able to fertilize the female's eggs.

 

The average return for his efforts may result in an estimated return of fish at 3%  3 years later.   One year he stood on the porch of his house, watching 14 fish spawning in the small stream below next to the tank that they originated from.   Other years only 3 fish were present that he saw below his house, but that is only a segment of the whole system.  The situation is that many times the rain and therefore the water flows are not enough at the right time to allow returning salmon to migrate as far up the creek as his location.  It is then hoped that these fish may find a place to spawn in the lower creek, although possibly not as desired as the upper smaller tributaries.   This is one of his reasons to do this in that many years there has not been the rains at the right times for salmon migration to the most desirable spawning gravel, thus diminishing the percentage of later returning fish.

 

It takes about a month for the eggs to hatch and they then burry themselves down into the rock crevices, where they live on the nutrients of their egg sacs.   When they emerge from the rocks, they will be about 1 1/4" long.   They then on their own will swim, or be carried out the overflow then into the small stream.  If he wants to disperse these fry into a better rearing area upstream or downstream in the same stream, he can now catch some going out the overflow and plant them in his picked out locations.

 

These small Coho salmon will stay in the streams for another year, growing to about 6" long.   They then migrate out to the ocean in the spring, where they tend to turn right, heading toward Canadian and Alaskan waters.  Usually 2 years after they enter salt water, they return to their home streams to mate.  The female finds a gravel bar to her liking, scoops out a depression in the gravel with her tail, deposits her eggs in this hole, known as a red.   When she lays her eggs, the male is always nearby (like side by side to her) where he fertilizes them as they lay in the red.   When the process is over she covers the eggs with gravel.  Many times the female will allow another male fertilize her eggs, just another mother natures methods of diversifying the gene pool.  When there are no more eggs or sperm, both of the salmon will die.   Their carcasses will decay, providing nutrients for water bugs or as food itself for the young fish after they hatch and enter the stream.

 

They can find their home stream by a very good sense of smell.   They get imprinted by the water they grew up in and remember it's smell when they get ready to return.   Some salmon can detect 1 part in 8 billion.  Using magnetic orientation along with this smell, they can find the same stream they originated from.

 

Errol spent time in a hospital the summer of 2005 which they finally diagnosed as rabbit fever, it looked bad for a week until they figured out what was going on.  He had time to think about what he has done and realized that he is not invincible, so has now added another volunteer name (me) as a secondary person to carry on his legacy if and when he may get sick or old enough that he can not function, or may pass on.   We fisherpersons owe a lot to the dedicated people like him who perform this type of volunteering.

 

Nutrient Enhancement :  These newly hatched salmon will need food during their many months of stay in the creeks.  To accomplish this, we finally made arrangements with WDFW to get excess salmon carcasses from the hatchery for planting into this watershed.  We got 50 carcasses in late January of 2011.  A number of them were already nutrient enhanced (partly decomposed).  Others were still alive when we picked them up from the hatchery.  However the condition was far from what any fisherman would even consider taking home with major sores on their bodies.

 

We deposited most of these carcasses in the main creek, by driving close to a creek bank or throwing them off bridges in the upper watershed.  This day we had the help of Errol's 5 year old great grandson.  About 10 of these were transported upstream into DNR owned logged off land where they were deposited in one of the main side tributaries that has good holding water and that we will later deposit probably 10,000 fry into yearly.

 

Grandpa's helper This kid is an eager beaver Here an easier method of pitching carcasses with a single tined pitchfork

 

Plugged Culvert :  During the late summer of 2006 Errol found a 5' corrugated steel culvert on logging road  D1100 on a east fork of Deep Creek above his egg boxes that had been plugged almost completely by beavers during the summer.  This has been a recurring situation where he has been able to manually remove the beaver sticks before.  This time the beavers were persistent.   And this blockage would prevent any upstream fish passage on this fork of the creek.  It would also probably blocked any of the fingerlings that later would want to migrate out that we had planted in that fork of the creek earlier.

 

Inside of the culvert looking upstream The upstream side before removal The same upstream side after removal
Look at the rusty bottom which would have been the normal water flow level    

 

After contacting the landowners, Port Blakely Timber Co. , WDNR and WDFW,  the landowners brought in a excavator along with a crew that removed this blockage just in time before the fall rains began.  This blockage could have hampered some of his operation in that it would have blocked any chance of any of his possible returning salmon to migrate into this section of the creek and on to any possible upstream spawning gravel.

 

In another light, about mid 1990s  $500,000 was spent placing wood debris in the creek, fencing and rocking muddy roads to help protect the stream.  Then a few years later about a mile upstream from this culvert a culvert was removed and replaced with a concrete/steel bridge for $60,000.  Then in about 2007 another larger culvert at the end of the county road was replaced with a concrete bridge for another $500,000.

 

Errol has taken it upon himself to be the guardian of the upper Deep Creek watershed.  He stays on top of needs of this watershed and over the years has a stack of business cards for supervisors of most all of the management bodies involved.  He is not afraid to contact them when the need arises.

 

The beavers were at it again during the summer of 2009 and 2010 where the blockage had to be removed again.  These times he caught it early enough and was able to manually remove enough to pretty well clear things up without contacting the timber companies.

 

 Flood of 2007 :  This major flood in the Chehalis basin was by some identified as a 500 year flood. (click here for link to article)   How did it effect salmon in the system.    Well not good.  It may well have wiped out the 2007 Chinook spawning in the river and the natural Coho spawn in the creeks is questionable.   The returns in 2010 for this flood are to soon to tell for the Chinook as they would return in 2011, but the Coho faired better than expected in 2010.  This was probably because most of the Coho spawn in the upper tributaries, which were not hit as hard as the main river during the flood.

 

The 2006 flooding was not as bad, but again the fish took a hit.

 

Photos below are of log-jams in lower Bunker Creek with a before and after.  Deep Creek and Bunker Creek merge about a mile above this log-jams with the main Chehalis River is less than 1/2 a mile downstream.   The concern was that if this blockage is not removed, would the smolt be able to go downstream or the salmon trying to return, be able to get upstream thru it?

 

Washington Department of Natural Resources arranged for a contractor to clear this debris (03-05-08) at no charge to the landowner.  This logjam was so solid that they were able to walk a large excavator across the logs from the LH (north) side to do the work on the RH bank, did it's work there, left enough debris to go back across, then did the final cleaning from the LH bank.

 

There was about 10 acres of woody debris up to 10' deep in a farming hay field immediately to the north of these photos.  The landowner was leery of the WDNR proposal of clearing it and he would be left with the small sticks clean up, plus it appeared that he felt that he might be able to salvage enough logs to make a profit.    He hired a logger, had this all removed, salvaging some logs and firewood, chopping the rest up into "Hog-Fuel", then had it hauled off.  There were MANY small sticks that had to be picked up by hand off this field after the "loggers" finished.  This was done by volunteers from a church organization.  The land was then worked up and seeded back to hay.

 

I talked to this farmer in the early fall of 2009 when he indicated that they were currently plowing the whole field up again and would be reseeding it.  He said the silt was so hard with the small debris still so bad that he would have been better off to have just let it lay and to loose the use of that land.  The cleanup cost, even though he salvaged some good old growth fir logs and firewood was not worth it in the long run because of the later bad hay crop.  And he was not sure how long it would take to build the land back up to where it would produce a profitable crop again.

 

Bunker Creek log jam in Sidorski's field after water receded Bunker Creek, after log jam removal, photo taken from opposite side of creek as photo on left

 

Cold Weather, Winter of 2009 :  The eggs were acquired November 21st of 2009 from the hatchery on the Skookumchuck River.  Early December saw freezing weather with the temperatures at 10 to 13 degrees in the mornings of the 8th thru the 11th.   This cold weather froze the intake water into one of the egg boxes.  The ice was 1" thick on top of the egg box, but the water was not froze where the eggs were a 5 inches below that.  Some eggs had hatched when I looked at them on the 11th, but the water was so cold that these Alevin stage fish characterized by the presence of a yolk sac attached, were so sluggish that they did not attempt to bury themselves into the rocks.


I looked at this one egg box again on the 17th after everything had thawed out.  It appeared that all of the unhatched eggs and the 20% or so that had hatched into a Alevin stage but were so cold that they did not go down into the protective rocks had also died.  We spent some time on the 18th cleaning the dead eggs which had already started to mould and deteriorate from the egg box.  I was wrong,  we did not loose them all, as I managed to find 2 Alevin that were still alive, only to break the egg sac on one when I tried to move them to a secluded corner of the box.

 

The other 3 egg boxes were in a bit more protected area with more trees around that there was enough water flow that these did not freeze solid ice, some ice, but still a flow of water over the eggs.  And upon inspection later they came through just fine.

 

Here the intake, egg box & the outlet are frozen as indicated by the icicle off the end of the overflow & the whole small creek was frozen solid.  
 

 

This photo taken 12-11-09, if you look close, you can see a few hatched eggs or Alevin with the egg sacs attached (the red colored ones) under the 1" of ice.  The golden colored eggs are dead, but at this time the grayish-pink eggs are still alive. Here, taken 12-18-09 it is apparent that most all of the eggs & even the Alevin did not survive the cold spell.  Now all the eggs are dead & the small whiteish ghost like Alevin are also dead.  The fuzzy brown spots are mould on the dead eggs.


After we cleaned the box of most of the dead eggs, we contacted the Skookumchuck hatchery manager inquiring as to whether he might happen to have a few extra eggs that we could get.   As luck would have it, he did, and we did get permission to replace those we lost in this one tank due to the extreme cold weather.   We cleaned the tank again, received another 25,000 eggs on the 28th of December.  Thank you hatchery manager Jim Dills and WDFW. 
 
 

Now The Downside Of The Project :  The actual number of returning fish are few in relationship to the number raised, but probably about right according to the biologists.  The time involved may even seen wasted as some years dismal returns showed back.   We have not done a complete daily stream count during the normal spawning season, (and probably need to) but usually do a weekly observation other than the small tributary by his house which can be done hourly. 

 

There is minimal spawning gravel in the main creek in the lower reaches, possibly only 1/2 a mile at best.  Then another 2 miles mostly upstream on the main creek near the end of the county road and in a timber company land and behind a timber companies locked gate.   The returning spawners fluxuate yearly depending on the amount of rain we get at the right time for them to make it back upstream as far as these RSIs are located.  Some years, like 2007 only 5 or 6 may be present while other years possibly 30 fish by the house on the one small tributary.  The normal time they return is about Thanksgiving.  The fall of 2009 there was a lot of early water, yet not enough to really flood, so many fish made it back, estimates between what we saw and the neighbors did in the upper watershed, were probably upwards to 400 this year (or 4% which is good).  The spawners in the lower watershed and possible strays into a sister creek, Bunker Creek would raise that number however.

 

There are other RSIs in the upper Chehalis basin that I am aware of.  One 5,000 project is on Dillinbaugh Creek southeast of Chehalis.  Another 500,000 project almost ended on Stearns Creek when the operator was old enough that he could not carry on and his son had no interest in doing so.   A concerned citizen picked this one up, is shared with a local high school as he has them do clipping of the outgoing fry.   Another 500,000 project is ongoing at the Onalaska High School, where the clipped fish are released into Carlisle Lake and the returning fish trapped at the weir there.   A few years ago WDFW wanted Errol to fin-clip his fry, but with his limited holding area and if 20,000 fry emerge in one night plus our big clumsy fingers don't help in the clipping process (been there - done that).  Then you look at the retuning numbers, yah for legal reasons, they should be, but is it really worth the effort?

 

Now why are the returns low on some years?  There are probably many reasons one possibly associated with ocean survival.   Another may well be the need for nutrient enhancement back in the small streams to provide food for the young fish (which we are addressing in the last couple of years as shown above).  We have also done this at times on a very limited basis, like using sport caught filleted skeletons during the summer/fall.   There is only two hatcheries low down on the Chehalis system and 2 other trapping facilities.   Getting carcasses from them had proved fruitless in prior years, due to WDFW paperwork and jumping thru the hoops or knowing the right person to talk to, but we have persevered.  

 

Another problem may well be predators.   I have observed for the last few years in the spring at the mouth of the Dillinbaugh, into the Chehalis River, many cormorants roosting in the cottonwood trees downstream of Highway 6 bridge.  This would be easy pickings for the young fry from that RSI just a few miles upstream from there.   Also mergansers along the river during the summer have increased in numbers.   Water quality does not appear to be an issue in that the dairy farmers all are required to have a manure lagoon as a holding area and can only pump it out onto the fields during good weather.   Both the cities of Chehalis and Centralia have new state of art sewage treatment plants so that also helps.

 

During the late Steelhead season, if using bait, it is not uncommon to catch out-migrating Coho smolt.   However these encounters are small in that fishing access on the upper Chehalis is minimal, plus not many fishermen will come back for repeats of zero targeted Steelhead taken.   It is not worth the time and effort when the Quinault tribe gillnets are in the lower river for a considerable length of time each fall and spring.   Then with the 14" cutthroat minimum size limit in the Chehalis, with squawfish being the primary fish in the upper river, not much sport trout fishing is even done there anymore.  Sorry kids you will just have to play your video games.

 

I do not see stream enhancement as an issue in this particular watershed, as the creek sides in the middle section has had no logging for over  40 years with mostly large alder alongside the creek.   The upper section has had some logging, but the creek has been preserved.    Most culverts are large and usually kept open.  Down trees along with some small log-jams and an occasional beaver dam are occasionally seen making prime rearing areas.

 

For those who see our release of unclipped hatchery fish as a detriment for sportfishing, in that they contribute to the uncatchable sport numbers in the ocean, well all I can say is if you are willing to come out and help set up a holding / feeding tank, help fin-clip, we are more than willing to accept your generosity.  Except in the 2010 and on seasons, the projection of returning Coho was more unclipped fish than of hatchery origin by a sizable number in the Chehalis River, so the Advisory Committee recommended a season set to allow retaining unclipped Coho in parts of the watershed that warranted this.  WDFW accepted this, so maybe some of our fish helped contribute into this change in the regulations.

 

The HSRG (Hatchery Scientific Review Group) recommendation is to balance out the hatchery fish and focus on restoring a natural run that has been spawned and raised off the gravel.  Their recommendation was accepted by the Washington State Fish and Game Commission.  In doing so, the WDFW is mandated to have fishermen not retain unclipped salmon unless warranted.  However the ratio of returning fish needs to be evaluated and if the percentage of natural fish is greater than hatchery clipped fish the allowable catch can be recommended.  By WDFW definition, NATURAL is a fish that could have been the offspring of hatchery fish that spawned in the wild.  I will not use the word WILD because in all probability there are now no real wild strains left.  This being the case, with a high rate of returning naturals, the seasons were set for 2010 for the retention of some of these unclipped fish in the sportsmen's bag.

 

Frustration :  I had sat on the WDFW Grays Harbor ad hoc advisory committee for 10 years, since it was formed in 2004.  It is frustrating to see the number of salmon, especially Chinook, dwindling.  Our unanimous concern/advise has for the most part been on years where their hearing aids must have dead batteries.  The projected 2008 returns looked dismal.   2009 returns for Chinook were dismal in that no retention was allowed, while now the Coho were good, however possibly due to some of the RSIs not fin-clipping, the ratio of hatchery to natural was about 1 to 6.    We all agree that there are probably no true wild fish anymore, so according to WDFW any returning unclipped fish is now officially called a "Natural" fish.    2010 there again was not enough projected Chinook returns to allow a season.  2011 Coho projection was up for the upper river, but in reality, the sports fishers had a bad year.  2015 was a very bad year for both Chinook and Coho as the long hot spell late fall really warmed up the water (not good for fish) where many did not survive along with a BAD ocean survival for Coho, which their return was dismal. 

 

Sometimes the WDFW "paper fish" do not materialize, maybe the transition from paper fish to actual fish the fins never grew so these paper fish never learned how to swim.

We need to be heard and something needs to be done.  It seems that WDFW has so many restrictions that unless all the "i"s are dotted and "t"s crossed that no one in higher management is willing to make a decision FOR the fish.

 

And then there is the seemingly continual tribal nets that take their toll.  The tribe appears to not use the same method of figuring the needs of "escapement" (the number of wild/natural fish required to return and spawn) as the WDFW does.    There are some lower rivers (4 of the lower tributaries) of this system that are far short of making this escapement, while farther upstream, the mainstem and most upper tributaries do.

 

WDFW Acknowledgement :  In early April of 2015, after learning of Errol's bout with brain cancer, WDFW presented him with a plaque, a WDFW Volunteer hat and letter of recognition for 32 years of volunteering doing his RSI's raising and releasing young Coho salmon in the Deep Creek watershed.  

 

This was presented by Steve Theisfeld, Fish Program Manager of WDFW Region 6, on April 3rd in a private family gathering at his home that was a total surprise to him.

 

Here a WDFW fish manager presents Errol an award for his past years of volunteer service

 

Here is the Errol wearing the Volunteer hat

 

 

And the letter from WDFW to Errol

 

 

 

 

Here is the article in the May 2015 issue of Field & Stream

 CONSERVATION
  HEROS OF CONSERVATION
   Propagating salmon, creating new fishermen, and
   nurturing public wildlife
  By   Mike Toth


THE COHO CULTIVATOR
ERROL ANDERSON 
CHEHALIS, WASH.
Every year since 1983, Anderson has reared up to 100,000 Coho salmon from eyed eggs and re-leased them into Deep Creek, his home water. he picks up the eggs at a state hatchery and tends to them daily for three months until the salmon grow 1 1/2 inches.  Anderson took over the volunteer effort because he saw that the number of returning salmon had been declining.  He has also improved stream habitat and created spawning areas.  "I want to see that the creek has fish" says Anderson, 77,
a retired logger.   He released his three-millionth Coho last year.

 

 

 

 

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Originated 12-15-05, Last Updated 12-06-2016

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