Leavenworth, Wash.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to rescue salmon fingerlings at the Leavenworth Fisheries Complex are already starting to pay off, said Dave Carie, hatchery manager at the Service’s Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. High water temperatures and low water volume have proved lethal to fish throughout the Pacific Northwest this summer. When disease outbreaks among some of Leavenworth’s spring Chinook salmon signaled danger, action had to be taken quickly.
“When temperatures get high, the salmon's immune systems don't work very well, and they succumb to common diseases and parasites,” said Andy Goodwin, regional fish health program manager for the Service. Staff from the Service’s Olympia Fish Health Center and the Mid-Columbia River Fishery Resource Office joined hatchery staff and partners in problem-solving. Much of the hatchery’s water comes from Icicle Creek, normally kept cooler by releasing water from Snow and Nada lakes in the nearby mountains. This year’s sustained hot weather, however, has increased both the water temperature and the number of parasites found in the water.
As a result, 160,000 fingerlings were found to be very sick. Service Assistant Regional Director of Fisheries Roy Elicker explained that releasing “sick and weakened fish into the stream” did not seem appropriate for the Service. "We had a tough decision to make and we had to think of the remaining healthy fish." Sick fish were humanely euthanized and another 250,000 of the healthiest fingerlings were trucked to cooler waters at the Colville Tribes Chief Joseph Hatchery in Bridgeport, Washington, where they will be cared for until cooler weather returns in the fall.
Challenging circumstances called for additional help and Tribal, State, and staff from nearby facilities were quick to respond. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife moved swiftly to expedite the fish transfer permit. The Yakama Nation brought two tanker trucks to carry fish to the Chief Joseph Hatchery. Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery loaned an additional large tanker.
It took two days to ferry the fingerlings to their new, temporary home. “It was crucial to the lives of these fish that we came together – the Tribes, the State, and our crews from Little White – to preserve our common goal of ensuring future fishing and harvest opportunities,” said Dave Irving, Leavenworth Fisheries Complex manager.
The remaining one million fingerlings have better living conditions at Leavenworth now that they have more room and water. “Mortality rates continue to decline,” said Carie. “The fish are responding well to the actions we have taken and we are confident that we made the best decision for the health of these fish in this circumstance.”