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Colville Tribes tally this year's Okanogan River summer/fall Chinook run


Tribal Fish and Wildlife staff conduct a salmon carcass survey on the Okanogan River. - submitted photo

The Colville Tribes' Fish & Wildlife (CTFW) staff have been counting the Okanogan River Chinook salmon spawning, a tribal press release said.

Biologists and fish technicians spend six to eight weeks each year conducting aerial and on-the-water surveys to document where, and how many fish are spawning in the Okanogan River.

"This year's run appears to be a strong return, at or slightly above recent averages," said Keith Wolf, project leader for the Chief Joseph Hatchery Science Program. "It will take our staff several months to compile and analyze all the data we collect before we draw final conclusions."

Each spring, the Science Program hosts an annual three-day workshop to review all Anadromous Fish Division activities with a large group of scientists, and the public. Spawning is one topic covered at the workshop.

The monitoring of adult fish returns provides managers with key data on fish population status and trends. This information is broadly used for planning artificial production, habitat restoration and other projects.

"These data are shared with state and federal fish and wildlife programs and with Douglas, Chelan, and Grant County public utility districts and their natural resource programs. We communicate with partners throughout the region as part of multiple agreements, mitigation, recovery and conservation programs," said Randy Friedlander, CTFW interim director. "We work with our management partners and area stakeholders to provide information on how fish are doing and work cooperatively with federal and state managers to manage fishing seasons for tribal members and the public," he continued.

Kirk Truscott, CTFW Anadromous Program manager explained, "Our professional staff conducts redd and carcass surveys in the Okanogan each year. They count redds (spawning nests made by fish) and examine carcasses (the expired parents of the next generation) for a number of biological indicators, such as pre-spawning mortality, spatial distribution, abundance, age-at-return and many other key data points," Truscott said. "These are intensive efforts aimed at assessing the efficacy of our hatchery, harvest, hydro and habitat programs. "The combined results from these efforts safeguard the health of fish runs by facilitating good management decisions based on strong science."

Carcasses represent the end of life for adult male and female salmon. This is the natural life cycle for Pacific salmon. The decomposition of these fish provides essential nutrients that support the health and vitality of near-shore vegetation, balance in water quality, food resources for all kinds of Okanogan basin wildlife, including juvenile offspring from these parents as they emerge from the gravel in early winter and spring each year.

CTFW staff takes fish measurements and biological samples from fish that have died. Fisheries staff remove fish heads to retrieve coded wire tags, and they remove their tails so they are not resampled.

The carcasses are returned to the river as part of the natural cycle and in keeping with tribal cultural values and traditions.

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