Plenty of uses for extra steelhead

I have a question about what happens to excess summer steelhead at Cold Rivers Hatchery on the Rogue River. I know they sell some of the spring chinook salmon and give extra coho salmon to the Oregon Food Bank. But what happens to the extra steelhead? Are any of them sold? Do they all end up in the landfill?

— Steve S., by email

There are lots of ways excess summer steelhead are handled at Cole Rivers Hatchery before they become candidates for the local landfill.

Up to 600 pairs of steelhead are used for spawning, and the rest are considered excess fish.

Since steelhead are classified in Oregon as a game fish and not a food fish like salmon, they cannot legally be sold. So hatchery workers have to get creative in their dealings with excess steelhead.

The first thing hatchery workers like to do is recycle excess fish back into the Rogue River to give anglers another shot at catching and keeping them. The last of these releases in the popular "retread steelhead" program will come this week at TouVelle State Park, says David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager.

So far, 1,498 summer steelhead have been recycled into the Rogue, with releases at boat ramps in the cities of Gold Hill or Rogue River, Pease says.

After that, some females have their eggs stripped before they're then released so they can return to the river without spawning with wild fish, Pease says. Unlike salmon, some steelhead survive their spawning run and return to the ocean to grow bigger for a repeat of this year's spawning run next year, he says. Last year, hatchery workers stripped and released 285 of them.

Occasionally, some excess summer steelhead are given to American-Canadian Fisheries to process and create fillets that are donated to the Oregon Food Bank in the same fashion that some excess hatchery coho salmon are used.

But summer steelhead are smaller than coho, so it's hard to get enough pounds of excess summer steelhead to make it worth American-Canadian's trip from northern Washington, Pease says. The only way it pencils out for a shipment is if an American-Canadian truck with space on it happens to come through Medford when excess fish are available, Pease says.

Another 50 or so are killed and given to schools for dissections, Pease says.

Only fish that missed all those opportunities get the one-way trip to the landfill.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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