Adult Salmon, Steelhead Will be Released Above Round Butte Dam, Oregon

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This fall adult salmon and steelhead could migrate and spawn in the upper Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked river basins for the first time in more than 50 years under a one-year strategy recently developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and others.

The return of adult summer steelhead and sockeye and chinook salmon to these basins would be a major milestone in the ambitious fish reintroduction effort aimed at re-establishing anadromous fish populations that were cut off by the construction of the Pelton Round Butte Dam complex on the Deschutes River in the early 1960s.

Biologists anticipate the first significant number of adult fish to return to the dam complex this summer and fall. According to Mike Gauvin, ODFW Pelton Round Butte mitigation coordinator, approximately half of the expected returning adults will be released into Lake Billy Chinook to continue their upstream migration. Many of these fish will be fitted with radio tags so biologists can study their migration behavior and spawning locations.

The other half of the fish will be taken to the Round Butte Hatchery and used as brood stock to produce young fish for release into upstream habitats in 2013.

“While we have developed a strategy for 2012, it’s been difficult to come up with a long-term approach because there are still so many unknowns,” Gauvin said. “Having this interim strategy will give us an additional year to better understand the behavior and migration of returning fish before we develop a multi-year proposal.”

The fish passage strategy was developed in conjunction with the Pelton Round Butte Fish Committee, which includes representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs,  Portland General Electric, and non-governmental organizations.

The adult salmon and steelhead returning to the dam this year were released as young fish into upstream habitats beginning in 2007. Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, constructed and began operating a fish collection facility at Round Butte Dam in 2009 to capture the outmigrating smolts and release them below the dam so they could continue their migration to the ocean.