Quilcene National Fish Hatchery
Pacific Region

Fish Species

Pacific Salmon

Drawing of Coho Salmon
In many ways, the life histories of the five Pacific salmon (chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink) are similar. All are born in fresh water and spend their early lives there (freshwater phase), migrate to the sea (ocean phase) where they grow to adult size and then return to their home streams to spawn and lay their eggs. All pacific salmon die after they spawn and lay their eggs. The fish carcasses provide nutrients to other animals such as the eagle, bear, river otter and insects. The insects are a source of food when the new fish emerge from their gravel nest.

Length: Ranges from 10 to 32 inches. Weight: 6 lbs average; 25 lbs 5.44 ounces record sport catch in saltwater in the state of Washington by Martin Cooper, Sekiu in 2001. Identifying features: When the fish first enter the fish hatchery and when they are in the ocean, they are silvery. They have small black spots on their backs and upper lobe of the tail fin. The gums at the base of the teeth are white. An amazing transformation takes place when they are ready to spawn. Males sport bright red flanks, dark heads, bellies and backs; females display a much paler version of the same color as the male. Males' jaws become grotesquely hooked. The gums are white - very noticeable when the fish are in their dark spawning colors. Life history: Most coho spend 1.5 years in fresh water and 1.5 years at sea, although a small percentage of males, called "jacks," stay only 6 months in salt water. Unlike other salmon fry, young coho are colorful, with orange bellies and black and white bordered fins. Their colors aid them in territorial displays; they are the most aggressive of all salmon fry, both to their own and other species. Once in the oceans, they range from northern California to Alaska. Coho are very powerful, and can jump waterfalls that most salmon cannot negotiate. They migrate back to their home stream in late summer and fall then spawn from September through the beginning of November. An average of 6.2% of the fish released from Quilcene NFH survive to return to the hatchery or are caught in the near shore fisheries off the coast of Canada and Washington.

Steelhead, Steelhead trout, or sea-run rainbow trout

Scientific Name: Oncorhychus mykiss

Steelhead are the anadromous form of rainbow trout. Their common names comes from the steel-blue color of the head, especially when in salt water. The general body coloration is metallic-blue on dorsal surfaces, silvery on the sides and belly, with black spots on the dorsal and caudal fins. The spots are less distinct in salt water or fresh from the sea. Adults, particularly males, darken in fresh water as they approach spawning and develop the characteristic rainbow trout pink/red band along their sides and pink coloration on the opercles (gill covers). Juvenile steelhead can be differentiated from coastal cutthroat by their shorter head, compressed body, absence of teeth on the back of the tongue, absence of a red slash below the lower jaw and lighter edges on the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. Rainbow and steelhead usually have 11 or 12 (range 9 - 11) in cutthroat.

Size: Length to 45 inches and weight to 43 pounds. State Sport Record: Summer -run November 23, 1973; 35 pounds 1 ounce; Snake river. Winter run; April 14, 1980 ; 32 pounds 12 ounces; East Fork Lewis River .

Life Facts: Steelhead spend most of their marine lives well offshore in the North Pacific. They live for 1 -3 years in fresh water before migrating to the sea, and typically mature in their third, fourth or fifth year of life. Although steelhead are capable of spawning more than once, most are too weak to make the perilous journey back to the ocean. Most Washington sport catches are dependent upon fish entering the streams during the winter months, but some rivers, notably the Columbia system, also contain larger numbers of summer - run fish. Most steelhead taken from salt water are caught incidentally while fishing for salmon, although they are targeted at some Puget Sound beaches

Summer Chum Salmon
chum salmon

Length: Ranges from 20 to 35 inches Weight: 8 lb. average Identifying features: When the adult fish are in the ocean , they are silvery. These fish go through the same transformation that the coho salmon undergo when they are ready to spawn. Spawning males are dark olive green and develop reddish purpose vertical bars on their flanks; spawning females are dark olive green and have a reddish purple lateral band. Males' jaws become grotesquely hooked and have large canine teeth. Life History: The freshwater part of the cycle of chum salmon lasts only a few months before they smolt and migrate downstream to the ocean. They can be found from California to Alaska, remaining in the ocean until they are 3-4 years old. Returning to their streams and rivers of origin, they spawn and die. Chum salmon have been very important to the Japanese fishery and their eggs are considered a delicacy. Native Americans called chum "dog salmon" because of their teeth and valued the meat because it could be preserved for a very long time by smoking it. The summer chum run was listed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as a depressed stock in 1991. The USFWS and partner organizations began a rearing program in 1992 to help restore this fish run to healthy levels. The Hood Canal summer chum was listed under the Endangered Species Act as a "threatened" species in 1999. Together with our partners we concentrated on helping this species recover from this threatened status. A successful summer chum salmon recovery program was initiated in 1992 prior to the 1999 listing. This program involved cooperation of the Quilcene National Fish Hatchery, Western Washington Fish & Wildlife Office, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Point No Point Treaty tribes. This successful program was conducted without additional funds and demonstrates the commitment of these groups to work together for an important resource.

The summer chum recovery program lasted 12 years. The fish returns are being monitored, and in the event that the summer chum runs decline in the future, the hatchery and its partners can once again intervene.

Please refer to the following websites:
1. http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chum/index.html

2. http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon-Harvest-Hatcheries/Hatcheries/

http://www.nwifc.org/recovery/ - Type in Summer Chum in the search box

Fish Then and Now

egg collection When hatcheries first began operating, there were also many questions dealing with fish diseases. What caused them? How could they be prevented? How are sick fish treated ? Research has answered some of these questions, and we continue to evaluate and update our growing knowledge. Today fish pathologists routinely monitor our fish and are available on call to address any abnormal fish behavior or elevation in mortality. Abnormal behavior can be an indication of the fish starting to get sick. The fish pathologist then recommends treatments for specific fish diseases and gives advice on how to prevent or minimize the impacts of disease on fish populations.

Adult coho and chum salmon return to the hatchery from September through December after spending 1 to 4 years in the ocean. At Quilcene NFH an electric fish weir guides them to the fish ladder and into the holding pond. Each fish is hand checked, separating those ready to spawn from unripe fish. Unripe fish are returned to the pond and checked weekly until they are ready to spawn. In nature all Pacific salmon die after spawning, so ripe fish are killed to collect milt (sperm) from male salmon and eggs from the females. Fish are spawned according to genetic guidelines which will guarantee the long-term survival of that particular species.

Female fish are cut open to release their eggs. Milt is stripped from a male and mixed with the eggs. A little water is added to the eggs and milt mixture to help activate the sperm, and fertilization takes place almost immediately.

fish sampling Samples taken throughout the egg collection process are checked for diseases by a fish pathologist to insure healthy offspring.

Fertilized eggs are taken to the incubation building, disinfected and poured into incubator trays. Clean, cold oxygen-rich water runs continuously through the incubators imitating the flow of a natural stream environment.

Hatcheries provide a safe environment for the development of salmon eggs, sac fry, fingerlings and smolts. Hatcheries can increase the survival rate of salmon through the smolt stage in their life cycle. In the wild, up to 85 percent of the eggs do not survive to the fry state. Hatchery loss to the same fry stage is about 10 percent, potentially greatly increasing the number of returning adults.

The warmer the water temperature, the faster the eggs develop, but if the water gets too warm, fish diseases can develop. After about 50 days at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs hatch into sac fry, with sacs of egg yolk attached to their bellies. The yolk sustains the fish for several weeks (the fish are not fed during this time). In the wild, they would stay hidden in their gravel nests.

young salmon in nursery tanks When the yolk is completely absorbed, the young salmon are called "buttoned up" or fry. They are transferred to nursery tanks or outdoor raceways and are fed nutritious food pellets containing fish, grain meal and vitamins. A fish pathologist checks the fish monthly, watching for any diseases. At or before eighteen months, depending on the species, the tail lengthens, juvenile spots disappear, and the fish, now called "smolts" are ready to migrate to salt water. Their adipose fin, a small fin near the tail, is removed to identify them as hatchery fish and some are tagged with a coded wire for research purposes in a specially designed trailer. Visitors are welcome to observe this operation.

Hatchery smolts are released in the Spring (May), matching the wild smolt migration. Instinct drives the fish downstream to salt water where they linger in the estuaries, areas where fresh and salt water mix, for several weeks. Acclimated to salt water, they head out to sea. In about 1 to 4 years, depending upon the species, they return to the Big Quilcene River to begin the cycle again.


Last updated: February 15, 2012
Quilcene National Fish Hatchery
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