Craig Chisam is the new hatchery manager at the Entiat National Fish Hatchery. Before coming to Entiat, he was assistant manager at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery for four years and before that worked for a private nonprofit aquaculture group in Alaska. He has a master’s degree in fishery sciences from Mississippi State University.
• What: Open house
• Where: Entiat National Fish Hatchery, 6970 Fish Hatchery Drive, Entiat.
• When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 9.
• Why: Learn about a new trout pond and education programs, the new summer chinook program and community partners who are supporting them.
• Information: 784-1131, 784-7117, or fws.gov/entiatnfh/index.html.
ENTIAT — While spring chinook salmon were flocking back to the upper Columbia River in near-record numbers this year, only about 20 returned to the Entiat National Fish Hatchery.
But the low number is no cause for concern.
The federal hatchery is switching fish. Instead of spring chinook, next spring, they’ll release about 150,000 juvenile summer chinook. That number will build every year until they’re releasing 400,000 summer chinook to make their way to the ocean each spring.
Summer chinook are related to spring chinook, only they spawn about a month later. Known as June hogs, they’re usually larger, but otherwise they look, smell and taste a lot like “springers.”
And they’re not endangered, so they don’t come with the same environmental constraints.
In five or six years, those who run the hatchery hope to have enough adults returning to open a new fishing season for summer chinook on the Entiat River.
Craig Chisam, who took over as hatchery manager two months ago, said summer chinook generally make it back to the upper Columbia River in late July or August — when spring chinook have finished spawning and before steelhead begin.
“The goal is to develop a fishery as soon as we can,” he said, adding he’s also hoping for more surplus fish for Columbia River tribes once the program is established.
The Entiat National Fish Hatchery was one of three built under the Mitchell Act, designed to create new salmon runs to replace those lost with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.
The hatchery averaged 716 surplus fish returning between 1997 and 2006. Chisam said they’ll be trying to at least match, if not surpass, the number of surplus summer chinook given to the tribes in the years to come. The numbers, however, will partly depend on how many adults are caught in the Entiat River on their way to the hatchery.
Joe Peone, Fish and Wildlife director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said the tribes support the change to summer chinook. A new fishing season on the Entiat River will benefit tribal members too, he noted.
He said he’s not worried about losing surplus fish for a few years while they wait. “You always want to see more fish. But I think for the long term it’s for the better,” he said.
The decision to switch to a summer chinook program came in 2008, after meeting with Columbia River tribes and others. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had reviewed all of its hatcheries in the Columbia River basin, and found that the Entiat hatchery could threaten recovery of the naturally spawning spring chinook in the Entiat River, listed as endangered.
Chisam said hatchery fish sometimes spawn in the river, and that sometimes prevents their wild cousins from spawning there. Hatchery fish might also breed with wild fish, which tends to weaken genetics of the natural spawners, he said.
There also are naturally spawning summer chinook in the Entiat, but a larger percentage of them are strays, or were left from a previous hatchery program at the Entiat hatchery, he said.
“There’s not a lot of negative impact because it’s not a listed stock, and it was largely introduced,” Chisam said.
This won’t be the first time the Entiat hatchery has been dedicated to raising summer chinook.
For more than two decades after it was built — from 1941 to 1964 — summer chinook was the primary fish raised at the hatchery, Chisam said.
To build up the summer chinook program to a level where a new fishing season on the Entiat River can be offered, the hatchery first has to get enough adults returning to sustain the program.
Using adults from the Wells Dam Hatchery, where Pat Phillips and his crew are helping his hatchery get started, Chisam and his employees — Jason Reeves and John Reier — will eventually raise and release 400,000 summer chinook every spring.
Once at least 300 adults begin to return to the hatchery each year — which could be as soon as 2016 — the program will be self-sustaining, and the hatchery can work with the state to open a new fishery, he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512