250,000 rainbow fish missing from Washington state hatchery

State wildlife managers say nearly 250,000 young rainbowfish that were due to be released into the Snake River later this year are missing from a breeding pond at a hatchery on the river near of Palouse Falls.

The smolts that were discovered missing on Sunday represented around 64% of Lyons Ferry Hatchery’s summer rainbow trout stock and less than 8% of the hatchery’s overall rainbow trout production in the Snake River Basin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Thursday. .

A rubber seal failed leaving an inch and a half gap that created a path for fish to head into the Snake River, said Chris Donley, fisheries director for Fish and Wildlife’s East Region, at the spokesperson. Staff discovered the failure when they began lowering the water level.

“I don’t believe it was a staff failure,” Donley told reporters. “It was an equipment failure.”

Agency officials in Olympia will decide to investigate further, Donley said. No immediate information was provided on the financial impact of the hatchery equipment problem and the loss of smolts.

Whether or not the 249,770 smolts survived is unclear and mostly depends on when they escaped, Donley said.

It is possible that if they escaped the enclosure when the water was lowered on Sunday and they survive, it would result in higher than normal numbers of rainbow trout near Lyons Ferry.

Normally, the Fish and Wildlife Service releases 60,000 Rainbow Smolts at Lyons Ferry. However, if they escaped earlier in the winter or late fall, many were likely eaten by walleye or other predators.

A smolt is a juvenile salmon or rainbow trout, aged between 12 and 15 months. Steelhead and Salmon smolts are raised and released in various areas of the state. The agency operates 80 hatcheries across Washington and raises about 5 million rainbow smolts annually.

On Monday and Tuesday, hatchery staff transported the remaining 135,230 smolts from Lyons Ferry to Cottonwood Acclimation Pond on the Grande Ronde River near the Oregon border.

These fish will be released into the Grande Ronde River in April. Most will spend a year in the ocean and return to the Columbia Basin as adults in 2023.

Last year was a bad year for rainbow trout returns on the Snake River. The dismal returns of both wild and hatchery-raised fish are attributed to poor ocean conditions, dams and hot summer water temperatures, although ocean conditions appear to be improving, giving managers the hope for a rebound.

Advocates of dam removal and habitat restoration on the Snake River have cited the hatchery failure as an example of why wild fish — and the habitat they depend on — are preferable. to fish reared in hatcheries.

“We want to see natural systems working because they’re more resilient,” said Gregory Fitz, communications manager for the Wild Steelhead Coalition group that works to increase the return of wild rainbow trout. “Natural systems work better in the long term. You don’t wait for parts to fail.

This story was originally published February 4, 2022 9:41 a.m.

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