When Brian Davis from the US Fish and Wildlife Service walked into Wet Planet on Monday morning, it was obvious he was not checking-in for a rafting trip. Dressed in chest-high waders, Brian wanted to know if he could dump some freshly captured Thule Chinook salmon into the river at our take-out location.
Brian and his co-workers are attempting to relocate at least 500 salmon from the base of Condit Dam. Using large encircling seine nets, the fish are corralled and moved to storage tanks on Fish & Wildlife vehicles. This method is the only way fish have been able to reach the premier spawning grounds the White Salmon River has to offer for the last 98 years. With the 125 ft Condit Dam blocking upstream passage, the stream’s native salmon have resorted to using warmer, less ideal (and less successful) grounds to spawn.
On October 26th, PacifiCorp plans to breach Condit by blasting the end of a large tunnel at the base of the dam. Engineers estimate that Northwestern Lake will empty in 6-10 hours, flooding the lower canyon with 98 years worth of sediment. While this may affect fish populations downstream on the short term, the long term future for fish on the White Salmon River looks bright. With an additional 33 miles of pristine spawning ground on a Wild and Scenic river, the salmon will not be complaining.
Today, Brian and Darren Fallion, another fish wrangler, are releasing another 20-30 fish above the flood zone. Setting up the large tube and opening the hatch, salmon as big as a small child fly out of the chute and into the pool above rattlesnake rapid. Momentarily swimming in circles, the fish soon orient themselves to the current and begin their mission. Thanks to Wet Planet’s Brent Shirley for the video at the top of the post of this process.
For more information and images on the fish transport efforts here at Condit Dam, take a look at the Columbian’s short video of the action.