On March 9, 2017, Coho salmon took a big leap toward restoration in the Grande Ronde River basin as the Nez Perce Tribe, coordinating with Oregon Fish and Wildlife, released 500,000 coho smolts into the Lostine River.
A ceremony was held to honor the salmon in the northeastern Oregon waters where Chief Joseph hunted and fished as a youth.
The release of fish from a hatchery tanker occurred on the Woody Wolf Ranch east of Wallowa, Oregon, about 600 river miles from the Pacific Ocean, where the fish are programmed swim and mature.
Becky Johnson, director of the tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resource Management production division, said coho once thrived in the basin but have been pretty much gone since at least 1986. “Her division’s focus is putting fish in the rivers to rebuild natural spawning runs and to restore harvest opportunities,” reports Rick Itami, an angler who was invited to the release and ceremony.
Numbers of coho declined throughout the 20th century due to pollution, human impacts on their habitat, overfishing and the construction of hydroelectric dams that impeded their progress upstream.
The Nez Perce successfully reintroduced coho salmon into the Clearwater River in Idaho in the mid-1990s. The program was so successful that Idaho permitted non-tribal fishing of coho during one season a few years ago, said Michael Bisbee Jr., coho project leader for the Nez Perce. The tribe hopes to repeat the Idaho project’s success in Oregon.
Photo of mature coho salmon courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry.