A public meeting has been scheduled in Montesano in order to discuss a new plan to put more salmon and steelhead into the Lower Chehalis River system.
Specifically, state officials and tribal leaders recently came to terms on an agreement intended to boost fish populations that have been harmed by the existence of Wynoochee Dam in Grays Harbor County. The agreement, struck between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Quinault Indian Nation, calls for an additional half million coho salmon and 60,000 winter steelhead to be released each year.
“This historic agreement benefits both wild fish populations as well as state and tribal fishers,” said Ron Warren, fish policy lead for WDFW, in a press release. “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 new agreement the WDFW would be required to add 60,000 winter steelhead and 100,000 coho in the Wynoochee River, along with 400,000 coho in the Satsop River. Releases are proposed to begin as early as 2021 with the first returns possible by the fall of 2020.
Most of those hatchery smolts that manage to mature in the ocean would be eligible for harvest by sport anglers when fisheries are open. Hatchery fish are marked by the removal of their rear adipose fin. However, the 100,000 coho released in the Wynoochee River will be tagged with a coded wire instead of the clipped fin in order to enhance their chances of survival. The retention of unmarked coho is prohibited except in the uncommon instance when surplus wild fish are forecast to return. Average return rates vary by year and location but typically do not exceed low single digits.
“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 added.
The Wynoochee Dam is owned by the City of Aberdeen. Mitigation requirements have been laid out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and called for the construction of a new hatchery facility. However, those plans were scrapped when the construction site proved insufficient. Funds earmarked for that project were subsequently put into a trust fund that is now controlled by Tacoma Power.
According to WDFW regional director, Larry Phillips, without a new facility there will continue to be limited resources for raising fish to feed into the Wynoochee River.
“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 noted in the release. “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.”
A signed draft agreement has been sent to Tacoma Power for review before it is forwarded to FERC for consideration. Tacoma Power operates a powerhouse associated with the dam. If approved the new mitigation plan would be good through 2037 when the dam’s federal license is slated for renewal. The cost of the plan is estimated to be about $2.6 million over the next 18 years. That amount is equivalent to the sum of the trust fund.
The public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sep. 24 at the WDFW regional office located at 48 Devonshire Road, Montesano.