In a program designed to continue avoiding a practice in effect as recently as 10 years ago when excess steelhead returning to hatcheries in Wallowa County were buried and disposed of, more than 300 steelhead have been given away for consumption purposes to willing recipients through Community Connection since late February.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, says Wallowa Hatchery Manager Ron Harrod, who estimates a total of between 1,500 and 2,000 steelhead from the Wallowa Hatchery and Big Canyon Hatchery along the Wallowa River, plus from Little Sheep Hatchery near the Imnaha River will be distributed or stocked in area ponds to maximize benefits from the 2015 spring steelhead run on those two rivers.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), in conjunction with the Joseph office of Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries, and Community Connection for the steelhead giveaway in Wallowa County, is spearheading an overall effort that’s sharing excess steelhead with food banks in Baker City, North Powder, Union, La Grande, and Elgin as well as with the local Community Connection. Additionally, ODFW stocks steelhead in Marr and Weaver ponds in Wallowa County plus Roulet Pond in Union County east of Elgin.
Jeanette Johnson, assistant manager of Community Connection’s Enterprise office, said as of March 23 a total of 308 steelhead in three batches had been distributed from either the Community Connection office in Enterprise or the Wallowa Senior Center.
Giveaways on Feb. 25 (75 fish) and March 23 (65 fish) were of excess steelhead captured in traps at the Little Sheep Fish Hatchery, while 168 steelhead captured at the Wallowa Hatchery were distributed at the two distribution sites on March 18.
Depending on the physical condition of the fish that have returned from the Pacific Ocean to complete their life cycles, one or possibly two additional giveaways could be in the offing.
News about future steelhead giveaways in Wallowa County, says Johnson, will be aired over KWVR Radio or may be obtained by phoning Community Connection at 541-426-3840. Normally given away on Mondays or even Wednesdays, the availability of fish to give away often is not known in advance.
Harrod says, among steelhead returning to hatcheries in the county, enough are set aside to use for broodstock with the remainder either killed, iced, and distributed to food banks or planted in any of the three aforementioned ponds for sport fishing.
To prevent hatchery fish from negatively impacting wild steelhead counts, hatchery fish are not returned to open water and allowed to spawn, he says.
Compared with high-count years when as many as 4,000 excess hatchery steelhead in Wallowa County are distributed or stocked in ponds, Harrod describes the 2015 spring steelhead run as “average.”