State and tribal leaders have agreed to a plan to release thousands of hatchery coho and steelhead into the Wynoochee and Satsop rivers to enhance those populations diminished by the Wynoochee Dam in Grays Harbor County, according to a statement from the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A public meeting on the plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the Fish and Wildlife Region 6 office located at 48 Devonshire Road in Montesano.
Under the agreement between Fish and Wildlife and the Quinault Indian Nation, roughly 500,000 coho salmon and 60,000 winter steelhead will be released annually as mitigation for the Wynoochee Dam.
“This historic agreement benefits both wild fish populations as well as state and tribal fishers,” said Ron Warren, fish policy lead for Fish and Wildlife. “Despite some obstacles along the way, the state and tribe have worked collaboratively over the years to find a path forward for fish in the Wynoochee basin.”
Under the agreement, Fish and Wildlife annually will release:
100,000 coho into the Wynoochee River;
400,000 coho into the Satsop River;
60,000 winter steelhead into the Wynoochee River.
The 60,000 winter steelhead to be released in the Wynoochee and the 400,000 coho bound for the Satsop River will all be marked with clipped adipose fins, making them available for anglers to retain during years when sufficient numbers of fish are forecast to return.
The 100,000 coho released into the Wynoochee River will be tagged with a coded wire but will not be marked with clipped adipose fins for the first five years of the plan. As unmarked fish, these coho have a better chance of making it back to the spawning grounds in the Wynoochee River since the retention of unmarked coho is prohibited except in years when high numbers of wild fish are expected to return, Warren said.
“The intent of this plan is to re-establish a healthy coho population in the Wynoochee River while providing coho and steelhead fishing opportunities within the basin,” Warren said.
The first release of these fish into the basin could take place as early as 2021. Anglers could then expect to see coho and steelhead returning as soon as the fall of 2022.
The steelhead and coho slated for release into the Wynoochee will be raised at the Lake Aberdeen Hatchery while the coho planned for release into the Satsop will be raised at the Bingham Creek facility in Elma.
The most recent licensing agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 1991 required mitigation for damage to fish populations as result of the Wynoochee Dam, owned by the city of Aberdeen. A new hatchery was planned but not constructed, due to site location difficulties. Funds intended for the new hatchery were put into a trust now held by Tacoma Power, which operates a powerhouse near the dam.
Without a new facility on the Wynoochee, there is limited capacity to raise more fish for release into the Wynoochee River, said Larry Phillips, Fish and Wildlife Region 6 Director.
“Releasing more coho into the Wynoochee will help offset years when natural production is low and could ultimately lead to more opportunities for anglers,” Phillips said. “In the meantime, anglers can look forward to what’s sure to be improved coho and steelhead fishing within the entire basin in the next few years.”
The state and tribe have sent the signed draft agreement to Tacoma Power for review before the utility forwards it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for consideration. If approved, the mitigation plan will run through 2037, when the dam’s federal license is up for renewal.
Fish and Wildlife estimates the cost of implementing the plan over the next 18 years is about $2.6 million, which is the amount in the trust fund.