Photo: Land Trust.

Fish Reintroduction Update 2024

Mar 10, 2024 by Jana Hemphill
Learn more about the efforts the Land Trust and our partners have been taking to create a thriving population of spring Chinook and steelhead salmon.

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The Land Trust continues to participate in the long-term partnership for the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in the upper Deschutes River region. This year we were able to once again help with spring Chinook and steelhead releases into Whychus Creek, McKay Creek, and beyond!

Three years ago, our partners moved to exclusively releasing fish that are one year old, called smolts. This year, the same tactic is being used and we have been focusing on smolts again. At Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, a large acclimation tank is currently hosting 25,000 Chinook smolt before their journey downriver. Meanwhile, at Ochoco Preserve, acclimation has been happening at our acclimation pond and in live cars (netted pens). The acclimation pond was part of the first phase of our Ochoco Preserve Project. Ochoco Preserve is currently hosting 5,000 Chinook with 5,000 steelhead expected this week.

What exactly is acclimation though? Acclimation is when smolts are placed in a holding facility that contains water from the stream or river the fish would naturally return to for spawning. Smolts are particularly sensitive to the smell of the water from their home creek and use this time in their lives to store the smell in their brain. This process is called imprinting. Then, they use this clue to help find their way back to the same area to spawn as an adult.

At Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, a portion of smolt will be released at the Preserve, directly into Whychus Creek. Meanwhile, the majority of the smolt being acclimated there will be transferred from the acclimation tank to a stress relief pond at Round Butte Dam on Lake Billy Chinook. There, the fish will de-stress from their trip before being released downstream of the dam in the evening. The hope is that by releasing them downstream, the fish will already have an obstacle removed from their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, at Ochoco Preserve, all smolt acclimated will be released directly into McKay Creek.

In order to track the smolts once they've been released, a PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag is inserted into some of the fish. The PIT tag is somewhat similar to a microchip for your pet. PIT tag monitoring stations, located at certain points along fish migration routes, record the unique tag number as the fish passes by. In this way, we’re able to monitor the fish’s progress when they head out to the ocean, then track them again upon their return to spawn. We look forward to tracking their progress and celebrating the fish that return to the waters of Whychus Creek and McKay Creek!


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