BANDON, Ore. – The mood is festive this fall in the Bandon Hatchery’s cramped spawning room.
“How can you not have a smile on spawning days?” said Helena Linnell, biological operations and planning manager for the Coquille Indian Tribe.
That’s especially true in 2022. After years of sparse salmon returns in Bandon’s Ferry Creek, this fall brought more than 150 breeding pairs of hatchery Chinook salmon – the most in at least 20 years.
Spawning is continuing through November, with 2022’s plentiful broodstock yielding hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs. This bumper crop of new salmon brings fresh hope for the Coquille River’s imperiled Chinook population.
“We’re really blessed with the number of fish that came back this year,” said tribal Chair Brenda Meade. “The hard work and dedication of so many people is what brought us successes this year.”
A coalition of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Coquille Tribe and community volunteers collected about 300 adult salmon in Ferry Creek over the past several weeks. Some of the fish were caught in a fish trap, others were netted in the creek, and some made their way to the hatchery on their own.
“People have really stepped up,” Meade said. “We’re getting so many volunteers from the community.”
The number of collected salmon far exceeds ODFW’s goal of 75 breeding pairs. It’s even more impressive in comparison with recent years. Only three pairs were spawned at the Bandon Hatchery in 2020. The number rose to 24 last year – an eightfold improvement, but far too few to sustain the Coquille River fishery.
After learning of the salmon’s plight in mid-2021, the Coquille Tribal Council declared an emergency. Municipal governments, local ports and community volunteers stepped up to help ODFW and the tribe combat predators, gather broodstock, and enhance salmon habitat.
This year’s breeding bounty reflects both natural and human factors. Along with better ocean conditions in 2022, Ferry Creek has new and better broodstock harvesting equipment, thanks to the tribe, the Port of Bandon and volunteers from the Coquille Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP).
The fertilized eggs will be kept in incubation tanks for several weeks before being moved to Cole Rivers Hatchery in Trail, Ore. There the juvenile salmon will hatch and mature until they are large enough to be acclimated into the Coquille River system.
Improved hatchery production is just one part of the story. In a separate project, two wild fall Chinook females recently were spawned at the hatchery, producing about 3,400 eggs each.
Spawning these wild salmon at the hatchery launches a groundbreaking “conservation hatchery” program on the Coquille River. The new program will collect adult salmon from the naturally spawning population, protecting them from predators until they can be spawned.
Those wild salmon will be kept separate from the regular hatchery population, and their offspring will be released with unclipped fins in the Coquille River basin’s upper reaches. (Clipped adipose fins indicate a hatchery pedigree.)
The goal is to build a more robust population of “wild” fish that eventually will return to spawn in the upper basin, far removed from their hatchery-bred cousins.
David Welch, manager of the Bandon Hatchery, lifts an adult salmon from the waters of Ferry Creek, with help from Coquille Tribal employees and a STEP volunteer. The fish was transferred to a truck-mounted tank for transport to the hatchery.
2022’s fall Chinook run looks stronger
Oct. 14, 2022
BANDON, Ore. – Chinook salmon numbers are stronger on the Coquille River this fall, thanks to improved ocean conditions and cooperative work by multiple agencies and local volunteers.
“The Pacific Ocean is bringing our fish back this year, and we’re all so happy and thankful for that,” said John Ogan, head of the Coquille Indian Tribe’s Natural Resources Office.
This year the tribe negotiated a cooperative management agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the two agencies are jointly leading efforts to capture adult salmon as they return to Bandon’s Ferry Creek. As of mid-October, they had netted 36 adult females and 39 adult males.
Those fish will become brood stock at the Bandon Hatchery. The number already exceeds the 24 breeding pairs collected on Ferry Creek last fall, and the season has barely begun. Many salmon are believed to be waiting for heavier flows before starting their upstream trek.
“We all believe that the first rain we get, that’s going to be fun,” Ogan said. “They’ll get that freshet smell, and it’s game on.”
In addition to the ocean’s improved productivity, humans have taken steps to help salmon feel welcome at Ferry Creek. With financial help from the Port of Bandon, volunteers have installed a V-shaped fence that funnels fish through a narrow passage and blocks their return. Other improvements include a new fish trap and “jump pools” that function like a fish ladder to lead fish upstream.
Mark Johnston, executive director of the Coquille Indian Tribe, pitches in to carry a salmon to a waiting tank truck.
Ogan praised the work of community volunteers from the Coquille Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program.
“A special tip of the hat to the STEP group,” he said. “They had the boots on the ground and the chest waders in the stream, and they did a lot of work.”
Ogan hopes the partner agencies will collect at least 50 to 60 breeding pairs for spawning at the Bandon Hatchery. The goal is to release at least 155,000 baby salmon, known as smolts, into the Coquille River system – and if even more if a bountiful brood allows.
This is the Coquille Tribe’s second year of partnering with ODFW and the local community to restore fall Chinook. Last year the tribe declared an emergency after learning that Chinook numbers had plummeted.
Producing salmon eggs for hatchery production is just one phase of the project. This summer the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a “conservation hatchery” program on the Coquille River.