The Tribe's Almost Ready
by Eric Barker
The Nez Perce Tribe is less than a year away from realizing its long-time goal of owning and operating a salmon hatchery.
Construction on a $16 million hatchery complex is under way on tribal property just east of the Cherrylane Bridge on the Clearwater River.
Work on the future hatchery is highly visible from U.S. Highway 12 on the north side of the river, where construction crews have built a coffer dam and water intake system. Farther from the water's edge, bulldozers and earth movers are busy shaping the hatchery complex, which will cover some 26 acres.
When completed in September of next year, 1.2 million Snake River fall chinook and 620,000 spring chinook will be produced at the hatchery.
The fish will then be trucked to a number of satellite facilities, where they will be acclimated to local conditions before being released.
"The primary focus is to help recover natural runs of fish," says Ed Larson, director of artificial fish production for the tribes fishery program.
Fish raised at the hatchery and satellite facilities will be raised in conditions that mimic Nature as closely as possible. Raceways will be crooked, like streams and rivers, and lined with cobble and gravel.
Rearing facilities will have woody debris and other structures where the fish can hide. The young fish may even be subjected to predator training.
The goal is to produce a fish that is more savvy to conditions in the wild and better able to survive the more than 400-mile journey to the ocean. The purpose of the hatchery program is to return fish to spawn in the river and its tributaries, rather than in the hatchery.
The tribe hopes the fish will boost wild populations of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Satellite facilities will be constructed in the Lapwai Valley near the mouth of Lapwai Creek, Lukes Gulch on the South Fork of the Clearwater River, Cedar Flats on the lower Selway River, Newsome Creek on the South Fork of the Clearwater River, Yoosa Camp on Lolo Creek and Sweetwater Springs near Waha.
Work has begun at the Newsome and Yoosa sites and will move to lower elevations as winter sets in.
"It's a pretty well-orchestrated schedule in terms of climate," says Larson. "When there is four feet of snow at Yoosa and Newsome creeks and no snow at North Lapwai Valley, we'll be working down there."
The hatchery will significantly augment the tribe's artificial production program, which now relies on sharing space at state and federal facilities.
The tribe received funding for the project from the Northwest Power Planning Council. It's one of many projects the council has funded to help recover salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.
The Bonneville Power Administration funds the council's fish and wildlife program.
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