Clipping the hatchlings

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate May 07, 2012 07:52 pm

Hatchery works to ID fish before release

Clipping fins on fish fry keeps Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery busy this time of year.

The hatchery is looking for volunteers to help mark 100,000 chinook salmon to be released later this year. Call hatchery manager Andy Van Scoyk at 707-487-3443 to get involved.

“It’s a good way to give back to the community especially as a fisherman or a guide,” said Steve McCown, a hatchery fish technician.

Although sometimes tedious, it’s an interesting process. First the lively fry are anesthetized with carbon dioxide so they swim slower and are easier to handle. 

Then, salmon fry no longer than a human finger have their adipose fin (the top fin in front of the tail fin) clipped so they can be identified.

“I’m making adipose soup,” McCown joked about a tub filled with clipped fins.

After the clip, a coded wire, 1.1 mm long, is inserted in the fish’s snout so the California Department of Fish and Game can figure out where the fish came from. A tag injector machine uses magnetic force to shoot the wire into the salmon fry.

After these two steps, the fish is thrown into a device that checks for quality control. If it senses a coded wire, it squirts a gush of water to send the fry down a small pipe leading to a pool where the fry wait to be released. If no wire tag is detected, the fish goes to the rejection bucket to be tagged again.

With more restrictive fishing regulations, Rowdy Creek produces some of the only Smith River fish you can take home for dinner.

During this past year’s winter fishing season, anglers could not keep a single wild steelhead trout, and only five wild chinook salmon could be kept all year. Hatchery salmon (one per day) and steelhead (two per day) can be kept all year.

About 51,000 steelhead will be released from the hatchery this year. Steelheads don’t require the wire tag since they are not caught in the ocean.

Rowdy Creek is the only privately funded hatchery in the state. Most hatcheries in California are funded by “mitigators” or dam owners that built dams on the rivers in the first place, said Mark Clifford, statewide hatchery coordinator. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation built the dam on the Trinity River and also funds the Trinity River Hatchery.

Without any dams on the Smith, the Rowdy Creek hatchery funds itself.

That being said, funds are tight at the hatchery and volunteers aren’t the only type of help needed.

“Our funding is down probably 40 percent,” said Steven Westbrook, president of the hatchery’s board. “We rely on the generosity of people making contributions and people have less disposable income right now.”

The hatchery’s budget has also increased from higher energy bills and new regulatory requirements like the coded wire tags, Westbrook said. This is the first year the hatchery had to cover part of the costs for the tags required by DFG. The hatchery’s share was $2,500.

“We can use volunteers, goods or services,” Westbrook said. “Nothing is too small.”

The hatchery’s primary fundraiser is the two fishing derbies (Chopper Derby and Hank “Raider” Derby) it holds in early spring.

In the past, some funding came from DFG’s Fisheries Restoration Grant program, but projects to recover endangered species-listed fish like coho salmon get first priority.

The “threatened species” listing of coho has also caused hatcheries statewide to be scrutinized closer, because of how they could impact wild fish, including coho.

“If (wild and hatchery fish) coincide in an estuary at the same time, there’s going to be competition,” Van Scoyk said.

The hatchery has been in operation for more than 40 years.

Volunteers must be at least 16 years old.

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it