Nez Perce Tribe delivers eggs to Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery as part of restoration program
The Nez Perce Tribe delivered approximately 700,000 bright orange-eyed Clearwater coho salmon eggs collected and spawned at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery in northern Idaho to the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery in Estacada last week.
For the first time in fifteen years, the Nez Perce Tribe is returning coho eggs from the Clearwater River to the lower Columbia as part of the tribe’s Clearwater Coho Restoration Project.
"It’s a true coming home story for these coho whose ancestors originated from the lower Columbia 15 years ago,” Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Public Information Officer Sara Thompson said. "The Eagle Creek Hatchery has served as the backbone to the Nez Perce Tribe’s Clearwater Coho Restoration Project for the past 10 years acting as the major producer for juvenile coho for outplanting.
The coho eggs made a nine-hour 400-mile trip to reach Estacada last week. The delivery of these eggs represents the first time that enough adult coho returned to the Clearwater Basin in Idaho so that their own eggs could be used for rearing at the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.
The Nez Perce Tribe’s CCRP, funded by the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund through NOAA Fisheries, is successfully rebuilding naturally spawning coho runs to the Clearwater River and its tributaries. Coho produced by the Nez Perce Tribes CCRP contribute to Columbia Basin and coastal ocean fisheries.
Coho salmon were exterminated in the Clearwater River following the installation of the Lewiston Dam in 1927. Early restoration efforts by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game were attempted from 1962 to 1968 in the South Fork of the Clearwater River. These restoration efforts were largely unsuccessful due to ice formation, de-watering, flooding, and siltation, and the restoration effort still faces similar challenges.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game discontinued the program in 1968, and no restoration attempts were conducted thereafter. Coho salmon were officially declared extirpated from the Clearwater River in 1986. This loss was unacceptable to the Nez Perce Tribe, which recognized the cultural and ecological importance of coho salmon to the Clearwater River. In 1994, the Nez Perce Tribe’s Clearwater Coho Restoration Project was initiated and the efforts have paid off.
In addition to the 700,000 coho eggs delivered to the Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery last week, other milestones of the program were reached this year. An estimated 280,000 coho juveniles were incubated, hatched and reared at the Dworshak and Kooskia national fish hatcheries and were eventually released into Clear Creek. An estimated 550,000 coho smolt were imported from Eagle Creek earlier this year and directly release into Lapwai and Clear Creek.
The overall goal of the program is to restore coho to the Clearwater River subbasin at levels of abundance and productivity to support sustainable runs and annual harvest.