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Restoring the Lower Snake River

salmonAbysmal run of fish to Clearwater River prompts use of nets and elite anglers to gather broodstock for hatcheries

By ERIC BARKER, July 27. 2017

Idaho Fish and Game officials are taking some extraordinary measures to help ensure hatcheries on the Clearwater River aren't short of adult spring chinook.

Regional Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont said the hatcheries collectively are about 1,500 fish short of the goals for adult returns, known as broodstock. To help close the gap, department employees will use nets to try to capture spring chinook that return to the South Fork of the Clearwater River. They have also recruited help from anglers on the Clearwater's North Fork to assist with the effort.

This year's spring chinook run fell well short of preseason predictions. Returns to the Clearwater River and its tributaries were so low that biologists feared hatcheries might not make their spawning goals, and the fishing season was closed early. Although there is still time for hatchery chinook to return to hatcheries, those fears are starting to play out.

Adult hatchery chinook returning to Red River, a tributary of the South Fork, are collected at a trap on the river and later trucked to hatcheries. It is common for many of the fish to stop short of the trap and instead spend time in deep pools.

"They have done a lot of habitat work with log jams and the fish just kind of hang in there, and a lot of the hatchery fish never go up (to the trap)," DuPont said.

He said department employees used nets in those pools this week with the goal of capturing about 150 chinook. They caught 99 and will return next week for another round of captures.

On the North Fork, the department has recruited a small group of elite anglers to catch adult spring chinook. Those that are caught will be moved to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka.

DuPont said it's still possible the hatcheries will meet spawning goals despite the present shortfall. Adult chinook will continue to be trapped at Dworshak Hatchery. Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins has surpassed its return goal, so some of those fish can be moved to hatcheries on the Clearwater.

DuPont said the department also is likely to trap more summer chinook on the Lochsa River than is needed for spawning. Summer chinook in the Lochsa return about a month later than spring chinook but spawn about the same time, in late August and early September. The extra Lochsa fish can take up any hatchery space left vacant by the low return of spring chinook. However, the summer chinook would not be spawned with the springers. Instead, they would be segregated within hatcheries.

"Hopefully we don't need to do that, but it's an option," DuPont said. "We'd rather have the hatchery full of something rather than nothing."

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