Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery
Pacific Region

Fish Species

The Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is somewhat unique in that the Warm Springs River, located on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, is "home" to both wild and hatchery spring Chinook salmon.

Hatchery Manger holding a Springer ChinookThe Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that the wild fish and hatchery fish should be kept separate as much as possible. The fish apparently spend their smolt and adult time together during their journeys to and from the Warm Springs River - in the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers - then they go their separate ways.
Adult salmon return to Warm Springs River from April to August. There is a man made barrier at the hatchery site that directs returning adults to a fish passage system. This system allows wild spawned adults and other fish species to by pass the hatchery. Fish are guided through a fish ladder leading to a sophisticated magnetic sensing device that detects very small metal tags placed in all hatchery reared fish 4 years earlier when they were 3 inches long. When a tag is detected, a passageway tube lifts dropping the fish into a catch pond. When no tag is detected, the passageway tube stays in place and the fish is allowed into the upriver channel where it can proceed above the barrier. Several times a week the captured fish are inspected to make sure that no wild fish are retained. Occasionally this may happen if a fish has some metal in their mouth or body such as a portion of a hook. Adults that originated at the hatchery are directed to one of 2 holding ponds. An underwater camera runs constantly on the "upriver" side. Those video tapes are read at least twice a week to make sure only wild fish are proceeding upriver. Once again, that check is made visually by seeing whether or not there is an adipose fin on the fish.

The returning Spring Chinook salmon do not feed and are maintained in the holding ponds until they are manually spawned in August and September initiating the beginning of another life cycle. The eggs are incubated in trays for about 90 days till they hatch, depending on water temperature the newly hatched fry can stay in the trays for 60 days when they are transferred to larger tanks. After they outgrow the tanks and the water warms outside in the spring, they are moved to outside ponds until release into the Warm Springs River the following year.

Wild adults that move upstream of the hatchery spend the warm summer months loafing in deep cool pools and begin normal spawning behavior in August and September. The eggs are incubated in gravel nests, the newly hatched fry remain hidden in the gravel interstices until they are ready to swim up into the river current. When they begin the smolting process, they leave on their own down the Warm Springs River.

How do we tell the wild fish from the hatchery fish? When fish are moved to the outside ponds they are about three inches in length. At this time they are "marked." At the Warm Springs NFH, the adipose fin is clipped off and a coded wire tag is implanted in the fish’s snout. The tag has a distinctive numeric sequence embedded on it. The code allows biologists to determine where the fish came from and any other data, such as which pond it was in at the hatchery.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed that up to 10% of the fish that go upriver can be of hatchery origin, that is, not have an adipose fin. At such time that more than 10% hatchery salmon go upriver, the passageway will be closed and the incoming adult salmon will be hand sorted by adipose fin. At hand sorting, a manual detector can be used to check tags, if necessary.



Last updated: July 16, 2013

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