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Salmon test in Upper Klamath Lake a major step

The author Phil Detrich is the field supervisor for the Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California and Nevada Operations, and the new Klamath Basin Coordinator. Detrich has been with the Service for 16 years and located in Yreka since 2001. For the past four and half years he has been the executive secretary of the Klamath River Basin Fisheries Restoration Task Force and managed the Service’s restoration program in the middle portion of the Klamath Basin. Detrich began his career as a bald eagle researcher working throughout northern California and in the Klamath Basin.

 October 17, 2005 By Phil Detrich Guest columnist

Restoration of historically important and commercially valuable fish runs is a strong priority of the Fish and Wildlife Service. As we all know, restoration doesn't happen by the work of one agency alone.

Restoration takes strong partners, cooperative landowners and lots of scientific expertise. In 1918, runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout were blocked from hundreds of miles of habitat in the upper Klamath River basin with the completion of Copco 1 Dam. These fish runs had been harvested throughout the Basin and were an important part of the Tribal fishery.

Restoration of these fish, which are not listed species under the Endangered Species Act, in their historic habitats in the Klamath River watershed is a general goal of both state and federal fish management agencies. We are just now beginning to answer the many basic biological questions that need to be answered before we can understand if and when we can restore these fish.

The impetus for thinking about this now is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of Klamath River hydropower dams that are currently operated by PacifiCorp. The company's current license expires in 2006.

A new license might require fish passage into the upper Basin, and it is important that we learn how these runs might be restored. Despite the many changes that have occurred over the nearly 100 years, significant portions of this historic habitat above the dams remain suitable for steelhead trout and salmon.

To better understand the response of salmonids in the upper Basin, federal and state agencies are conducting a tightly controlled experiment using juvenile Chinook salmon from Iron Gate Hatchery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, with the states of California and Oregon, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries as partners, will study these juvenile fish to see how well they smolt (or get ready to migrate to the ocean) after being held in waters of the upper basin.

The Chinook salmon for this experiment have been screened for disease and tested in the hatchery for physiological readiness through the summer of 2005.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife approved the transfer of the fish into Oregon in August.

This month and again in the spring of 2006, these young salmon will be transferred from the hatchery to the Upper Klamath Basin and held in net pens for two weeks at a location in the Williamson River and at a second location in Upper Klamath Lake.

At the end of this period, the fish will be tested to see if they are undergoing the physiological transformation necessary to migrate to the ocean and for their exposure to disease. The fish will be euthanized at the end of the experiment.

This is an important first step.

I look forward to our partners' and stakeholders' comments and suggestions, as well as sharing with you the results of this experiment, as we begin to learn more about how to restore these fish runs.




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