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Low salmon, steelhead counts prompt concern as warm winter lingers

Returns disappointing; variety of factors in play

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- For about the past decade a group effort including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and area tribes has been underway to restore the populations of salmon and steelhead in Central Oregon.

"I think all of us that are associated with the effort are disappointed with the numbers that we are observing thus far," Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brett Hodgson said Wednesday.

Hodgson said there are a variety of reasons for the less than ideal counts.

"One of them (is) the less than ideal survival of these juveniles that we have been into releasing into the natural environment," he said. 

He said part of that is that hatchery fish are used because wild fish aren't available.

"Hatchery fish are not as genetically fit and adaptable as wild fish." Hodgson explained. 

Hodgson said that even if the juvenile fish make it to where they are counted in Lake Billy Chinook, then taken to the Deschutes River, from there they have more obstacles like dams -- and that's not the end of it.

"Those fish that make it through all these obstacles are entering an ocean that does not have very favorable conditions for juvenile fish, currently," he said.

And this year's mild winter conditions could make the situation worse.

"Low flow conditions from irrigation withdrawals and higher water temperatures, potentially agricultural runoff making its way back to the river -- all of those can have impacts on fish survival," he said.

However as Hodgson maintains, these fish have a tough journey ahead of them.

"It's a complete suite of factors working against them," he said. "It's not just one thing."

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Blake Allen

Blake Allen is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.

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2 Comments

  1. Look at all the seals eating the Salmon at the Oregon City falls, and Bonneville. What can be done to control the seal population? That will bring back a lot of Salmon. But lets do study after study, and signatures to remove dams…… Try limiting the seal population.

    1. Partially agree with you; pinnipeds do need to be controlled. However, the seals would not be that high in the river systems if there were natural flows and no dams. Many of those dams, like the snake river dams, have blocked thousands of miles of spawning habitat; some dams should go, not all. Or make the utility companies invest in workable fish passage so they can get around them.

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