Conditions ideal as chinook and steelhead return
Fish counters at the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery in Smith River are inundated with record numbers of salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
Hatchery workers began counting the fish in early October and had tallied more than 3,400 salmon as of Monday afternoon.
According to the hatchery's data on Monday, 1,467 male salmon have been counted along with 1,824 females. In addition, 121 jacks, or smaller chinook salmon, have been tallied.
This year's numbers exceed last year's record-breaking salmon return of 2,775 fish. Before 2009, the record was 1,168 salmon in 1997.
Andrew Van Scoyk, Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery manager, said the numbers
of chinook, steelhead and coho salmon are way above average.
"We've seen 10 coho this year," Van Scoyk said. "We usually only see
three to four on average."
Van Scoyk credited good ocean conditions during the last two years
for the high numbers. He said he's even seen 4-year-old salmon returning
that were raised at the hatchery.
The hatchery currently raises both chinook and steelhead
salmon. Some of this year's returning wild salmon have been kept to
spawn. Their eggs will be used to create the next generation of hatchery
Counting the fish begins after they swim upstream, over some concrete
blocks that dam the creek in front of the hatchery and into a metal
tube. The tube guides the fish into a holding tank where they remain
until they're counted and released.
Van Scoyk said he has been counting fish every hour because the tank
gets so full. He said hurling the 30- to 60-pound fish from the holding
tank into the river is no easy task.
"I'm getting kind of sore," Van Scoyk said.
The fish are counted and marked by punching a hole in the tail fin so
they can be identified later.
While chinook salmon only spawn once in their lives, steelhead can
spawn multiple times.
After they're counted, the fish are thrown back into the river to
continue their arduous upstream journey.
Workers will continue to count chinook salmon until about Wednesday,
when the numbers are expected to be dwindling. Van Scoyk said they'll
continue counting steelhead salmon through May.
People are welcome to visit the hatchery on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4
p.m. and can call 707-487-3443 for more information.