to return to Klamath
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of
Salmon fishermen display their catch at the
Link River rapids in 1891. Federal
scientists plan to put salmon into cages in
Upper Klamath Lake and the Williamson River
as part of investigation of whether salmon
should be returned to the Basin. They have
been cut off since 1918 because of power
dams on the Klamath River
October 16, 2005
By DYLAN DARLING, Herald and News
Salmon will be swimming soon
in the waters of Upper Klamath Lake and the
But they won't have much room to roam.
The year-old chinook sal-mon
will be confined to 2-foot submerged cubical mesh
cages that will be put in the water early this week
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Scientists want to see how the salmon react to the
lake and river's waters and say the tests could be
used in planning a return of the sea-running fish to
the Klamath Basin.
Federal officials are weighing whether PacifiCorp,
which has a series of five power and water
regulating dams on the Klamath River, should be
required to install ways for salmon to get around
the dams as part of a new 50-year license.
Currently salmon swim up the Klamath River to the
188-foot Iron Gate dam near Interstate 5 and the
California-Oregon border, about 40 river miles from
The Fish and Wildlife Service has a long-standing
interest in returning andromous fish, or sea-faring
fish that swim up fresh water rivers to spawn, to
the Basin, said Phillip Detrich, field supervisor
for the service's Yreka office.
The fish haven't been in the Basin since the first
power dam was built on the river in 1918.
”There are several very
important questions that have to be answered before
putting the fish back,“ said Detrich, who handles
Basin-wide issues for the service.
The tests will evaluate how
the water quality affects salmon's physical changes
as they grow into smolts, young fish ready to go
from fresh water to salt water.
The salmon will be put in the water Monday and
Tuesday and will be in for two weeks.
”Essentially they will be captives, they will be put
in pens - one in the lake and one in the
(Williamson) river,“ Detrich said.
The salmon, which were
hatched at the Iron Gate Hatchery, won't be able to
sneak out of the cages, which are a cube of fine
mesh designed to keep the fish in and predators out,
said John Hamilton, deputy field supervisor at
Yreka. The tests won't cause salmon to be found in
the lake or river.
After two weeks in the water, the salmon will be
killed and dissected to see how they reacted to the
water. A repeat of the tests is planned for the
spring. Cost of both tests is $45,000.
Other questions scientists
hope to answer are whether there is enough spawning
habitat for salmon in the rivers that feed into
Upper Klamath Lake. The rivers are home to a famous
trout fishery. Trout and salmon can usually
co-exist, but if there is limited habitat, the fish
may start competing for resources.
”If there is only habitat for one salmon then it's
not going to make ecological sense,“ Detrich said.
”We recognize that conditions are considerably
changed since 1918, when the fish were last up
Some argue that salmon never
swam up into the Basin, but Detrich said federal
scientists have reviewed fisheries reports, historic
photographs and newspaper reports that lead them to
believe that salmon were a familiar fish here.
”There is actually a pretty abundant record of
salmon coming all the way up through Upper Klamath
Lake up to the Sprague River,“ Detrich said.
But before scientists get
too deep into the historic and scientific questions,
policy questions will need to be answered.
In February 2004, when PacifiCorp applied for a new
license with the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, plans for providing fish passage past
the dams weren't included. Since then, the
7,000-page application has been reviewed by Basin
stakeholders, and the company and stakeholders are
working on a settlement. And federal agencies also
are vetting the application and could ask the
commission to attach conditions to the license.
Detrich said the Fish and Wildlife Service may
require that the Portland-based company make changes
to its dams to allow for a return of salmon to the
Basin. The requirements could include ladders for
fish to climb on their way upstream, screens from
power turbines and bypass tubes for their swim
Jon Coney, PacifiCorp spokesman, said the company
hadn't heard of Fish and Wildlife Service's plans to
test salmon in the Basin.
The relicensing deal is not complete, and Coney said
the company is keeping all options on the table,
including fish passage. In its application,
PacifiCorp said putting in fish ladders, screens and
bypasses would cost $100 million, and said if plans
called for salmon in the Basin, the best way to get
them there would be by truck.
”We are curious to see what happens,“ Coney said.
The power company is curious, but water users are
nervous about the idea of opening up the Basin to
Although the chinook salmon is not protected under
the Endangered Species Act, it may eventually be
included like its cousin, the coho salmon, said Greg
Addington, executive director for the Klamath Water
Users Association. Federal scientists say coho
historically didn't swim into the Basin past Keno.
Federal protection of coho in the Klamath River and
sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake has already put
tension on the Klamath Reclamation Project, which
serves 240,000 irrigated acres with water from the
lake, and caused a major water shortage in 2001.