The Fish Are In!

Confluence of Tanner Creek and Columbia River. Dark areas in center of creek are returning salmon

Friday, September 6, 2019

Bonneville Fish Hatchery- Week One

The Fall Chinook Salmon run begins in mid-August and continues until the end of September. The Fall Coho run occurs a little later. Our first observation regarding the salmon is that there are a lot of them, and they are stacked thick in the holding pond and channels leading to the “crowder” channel. They are backed up several hundred yards down Tanner Creek as far as the Columbia River. Question- Are the salmon not being worked?. The answer- “There is no contract.” Since then a contract with the buyer has been approved and the buyer’s truck and refrigerated trailer arrived this morning, Friday, a full week after our arrival. Fish are finally being processed, either saved as spawners or sent to the buyers processing plant.

A little history concerning the hatchery is in order: Bonneville Fish Hatchery dates back to 1909. In it’s first year the staff was able incubate and release an estimated 15.2 million fry into Tanner Creek or nearby points along the Columbia. In 1910 the hatchery began receiving new supplies of eggs mainly from locations in Oregon and Idaho with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries contributing 3.4 million of the 10.7 million eggs. A hatchery in Alaska also contributed 1.5 million sockeye salmon eggs.

An American Dipper, a.k.a. Ouzle searching for food in Tanner Creek

“To cope with these rearing responsibilities, the staff worked hard to construct rearing ponds where they could feed the fry until their release into the Columbia. In 1910 Warden Clanton went to the cannerymen and packers along the Columbia to solicit their assistance and secured contributions of $1,500. Using these funds, Clanton had the crews at the Central (now Bonneville) Hatchery construct three ponds, each 100 feet by 20 feet and three feet deep.

Otters Dining On Salmon In Tanner Creek
Ravens- Cleaning Up After The Otters

  The ponds at Bonneville functioned so successfully that the Fish Warden proposed in 1911 that all hatcheries in Oregon construct rearing ponds. The pond system at the Central Hatchery was expanded steadily so that by the end of the year fifteen large ponds held the fry. The crews constructed a new flume to carry water from Tanner Creek to flush these rearing facilities. …” [Bonneville Dam Historic District, National Historic Landmark 1986 Nomination Package]. And that’s how it all began 110 years ago.

With construction of the Bonneville Dam in the 1930s the Fish Hatchery itself had major renovations, realignment, and construction. Of the original rearing ponds only the three farthest to the northeast were retained and were rebuilt as new display ponds. The Incubation Building was built in 1936. In front of the Incubation building are 22 concrete rearing ponds, constructed in the 1930’s. Each pond has a capacity of 300,000 fingerlings.

Egg Incubation Building built in the 1930’s

The facility was remodeled and expanded again in 1957 and again in 1974 the last as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s mitigation of fish losses from the construction of the John Day Dam. In 1997 the Hatchery was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Bonneville Historic District.

Host Site #2- Beautiful spot right next to Tanner Creek

Host Site #2 is our home for two months. It’s located away from the public areas of the hatchery behind the fish ladder, holding pond and channels where the salmon enter the hatchery. Out our right side windows not 35′ away is Tanner Creek. The fish come in from the ocean via the Columbia River and turn right into the mouth of Tanner Creek. They are prevented from continuing up the creek as far as our location by an electrified “fence”. Their desire to continue to the spawning grounds is what brings them here.

View of Railroad Trestle From Our Front Window

For those who aren’t savvy to the workings of a salmon hatchery I’ll do a little ‘splainin’, as Ricky Ricardo once said. The hatchery raises 10-15 million fish a year and may see a return of 1-2 million.

Hee, Hee- Salmon Dorsal Fins, NOT Shark Fins…….

Each female holds 3000-5000 eggs so the number of females required to fulfill the amount of eggs needed to perpetuate the species is small in comparison with the amount of salmon that return to the hatchery. Many less males than females are needed as their milt fertilizes the eggs of more than one female. The most desirable spawning candidates are separated from the crowd and placed in one of two spawning ponds, the rest are sold to a buyer.

The weather thus far has been on the warm side. A possibility of rain is in the forecast for early next week. More about the hatchery, Bonneville dam and surrounding area in future blogs. Until then, Adios!

A Good Night To All!

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