Steelhead donation lifts Oregon Food Bank

TRAIL — Hundreds of fish that Rogue River anglers couldn't catch for their dinners this winter will instead feed some of Oregon's hungrier residents next month.

Cole Rivers Hatchery workers on Thursday killed and donated 600 excess hatchery summer steelhead to the Oregon Food Bank, which will distribute packaged fillets through its food-distribution network in the state.

Food Bank spokeswoman Jean Kempe-Ware called the donation "a very healthy and very needed" influx of high protein for the diets of low-income Oregonians across the state.

"Once it gets in our system, it goes fast," Kempe-Ware says. "High-protein fish is difficult for low-income people to access, so this will make a lot of people happy."

The Oregon Food Bank is a nonprofit organization at the hub of a network of 20 regional food banks serving Oregon and Clark County, Wash. ACCESS Inc. is the local agency in Medford.

A glut of summer steelhead entered the hatchery's collection ponds over the past two weeks, likely due to a strong return of steelhead to the Rogue this year and January flows that enticed the fish to migrate, says David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager.

The excess fish showed up just as hatchery workers began spawning summer steelhead to fuel future runs, so the steelhead were considered excess, Pease says.

And it just so happened that Bellingham-based American Canadian Fisheries had an empty truck moving through the area, making the donation possible.

American Canadian and Cole Rivers have an agreement in which American Canadian processes excess hatchery coho salmon and supplies the food bank with frozen, 4-ounce fillets that are individually vacuum-sealed for distribution.

"We love them," Kempe-Ware says of American Canadian. "It's an amazing thing they do for us."

The seafood company, in turn, keeps the carcasses and eggs for sale and processing in its seafood business.

Excess summer steelhead are not normally part of that give-away agreement, but it worked out this time, Pease says.

Through Jan. 24, 3,062 Rogue summer steelhead have returned to the Trail-area hatchery. Most of the excess had been re-released into the Rogue for anglers to catch, Pease says.

This year's return of hatchery coho salmon to Cole Rivers was too low to provide fillets of that fish to the food bank, Pease says.

The food bank, however, already has received about 40,000 pounds of filleted coho from other hatcheries this fall, Kempe-Ware says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at

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