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Curry Pilot November 11, 2006, by Larry Ellis


Click this picture to view a larger image.

John Weber, ODFW STEP biologist plucks a bad (white egg) out of a fresh batch of fertilized eggs to prevent the spread of fungus.
Photo by Larry Ellis

If members of the Curry Anadromous Fishermen (CAF) in Gold Beach knew what was in store for them on Wednesday morning, they probably would have gone to bed an extra hour earlier. They definitely had their work cut out for them.

Every year the CAF begins the process of gathering salmon, sorting the fish in tanks by gender and ripeness, and starting their yearly volunteer work at gathering 150,000 Chinook salmon eggs indigenous to Indian Creek so they can spawn the next generation of late fall salmon returns. It is a task that everyone takes very seriously.

Indian Creek is a tributary of the Rogue River and the Indian Creek Hatchery is located one-half mile from the river mouth.

It is one of ODFW's many STEP facilities located throughout the state that helps to enhance the pleasure of salmon fishermen by providing extra fillets in their freezer, and enlightens anglers and non-anglers about nature's wonders.

Watching the spawning of the Indian Creek Salmon is like kicking back in your Barcalounger and flicking on an exciting episode of Nova. The only difference is that at Indian Creek you're transformed from a couch potato into a bona fide participant.

This is a real-life setting in which you get to witness first-hand one of the most spectacular miracles of nature from start to finish.

If you stick around for all these episodes, you will be privileged to watch fish entering the fish trap; you will become mesmerized with the wonderment of watching thousands of lives materializing before your eyes. Wednesday was just the beginning of many more days to come in the next few weeks.

But just in case you're not around to watch every single installment of this series, Chris Underhill, the volunteer coordinator of the facility, has a well documented collection of photographs and various test-tubes containing fish in different stages of development. Using these visual aids helps her educate people of all ages.

No one comes out of this facility without a smile on their face, and a brain teeming with interesting facts that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The Rogue River fall Chinook salmon run has been thrilling anglers of all ages for years. One of its strengths is that the run is 100 percent fully autonomous.

The major part of the run starts in July, when fish start stacking up in the lower estuary in preparation for the fall rains, which trigger them to start trekking upriver through the narrow canyon above Agness and through the Rogue's wild and scenic section.

With innumerable obstacles to overcome, including the highest waterfall on the river at Rainey Falls and predators including black bears, they soon find themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature. Soon they are in the expanses of the middle Rogue River, where there are several areas in which they spawn.

Some spawn in the mainstem while others spawn in the tributaries. Others are bound for the Applegate River, while the rest are trying to make it over the hazards of Gold Ray Dam and into the far reaches of the upper Rogue River below Cole Rivers Hatchery.

The Indian Creek facility was devised to enhance this already existing fall fishery. Specifically these fish were designed to return in October to Indian Creek, and provide additional adrenaline rushes for sport-fishermen after the main fall Chinook run was coming to an end.

It has definitely fulfilled all those dreams and then some.

The goal of CAF, under the direction of John Weber, ODFW STEP biologist is to spawn 150,000 eggs. Of all the eggs that are fertilized, 75,000 are reared to the smolt stage and released into the Rogue Bay the following July, August and September, so they can come back every October.

Another 75,000 eggs are reared to the buttoned up fry stage and are released into creeks that are in need of enhancement. Traditionally they have been divided up to four creeks: Edson Creek, Saunders Creek, Shasta Costa and Foster Creek, near Foster Bar, but the locations could change in the future.

Shasta Costa, which is located in the Agness area, is a real success story.

"I've seen redds up in Shasta Cooper," said Harvey Wright, a CAF member.

After a salmon is determined to be ripe enough for spawning, it is killed by a swift blow to the head.

"The second-graders say that's their favorite part," says Underhill.

Then the females are slit open and the eggs come down a disinfected chute and fall into a sterilized container.

Milt from the male is obtained by gently squeezing his abdomen and the liquid is collected in ziplock bags.

Then, after enough salmon are collected, the milt and eggs are gently swirled together. Fertilization occurs immediately but the containers must remain stationary for at least 15 minutes before the eggs are trayed up in the incubation room where they are kept for several months.

Here, the white eggs are picked out to avoid fungus and bacteria. The next two weeks are crucial. Any vibration to the eggs will kill the lives inside them.

This procedure will continue taking place until about 175,000 eggs are raised. On Wednesday, four females were fertilized, filling about five trays in the incubating room. The hatchery has about 55 left to fill before that stage is over.

Of the 75,000 eggs reared to the smolt stage, between 1 and 2 percent (750 to 1,500 salmon) will return back to the estuary to be caught by fishermen. The rest of the fish will return to Indian Creek.

Of the 75,000 buttoned up fry, an even lesser amount will survive.

The fish that don't survive become fodder for larger fish, birds and other animals. The rest succumb to the elements.

A lovely wooden plaque hangs over the door to the facility, in memory of Kathy Moore, the former volunteer coordinator who gave selfless years, time and dedication to the Indian Creek Project.

Whenever salmon were being seined at Huntley Park, Kathy often fondly referred to the Indian Creek Salmon as her children. Kathy will be missed but never forgotten.

To contact the Curry Anadromous Fishermen for membership visit www.rogueriversalmon.org/, or call Chris Underhill at (541) 247-0396

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