Excess coho will feed the hungry

TRAIL — Some of the fish Rogue River anglers couldn't catch will go toward feeding some of Oregon's hungrier people.

Cole Rivers Hatchery workers on Tuesday killed and donated 500 excess hatchery coho salmon to the Oregon Food Bank, which will then distribute packaged fillets through its food-distribution network.

The post-Thanksgiving killing of the excess fish is common at the hatchery, which releases about 300,000 coho smolts annually. Because hatchery coho used to fuel a heavy ocean fishery that has since been pared down to protect threatened wild coho, catches are now light and excess fish are bountiful in Cole Rivers' concrete ponds.

The coho giveaway occurred much like it has at the Trail hatchery for several years. Hatchery workers killed the fish and gave them to Bellingham-based American/Canadian Fisheries, which processes the salmon and supplies the food bank with frozen four-ounce fillets that are individually vacuum-sealed.

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

Last year, the hatchery supplied 1,882 coho to the food bank, says David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager.

This week's fish should be in the food bank pipeline in time for Christmas.

With coho returns at the hatchery up to 1,000 fish, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists figured half could go to the food bank while the rest would remain for broodstock and other uses for carcasses. That includes the annual placement of coho carcasses in Rogue basin tributaries to pump natural nutrients into those streams.

Under the hatchery's prioritization policies, the so-called "stream enrichment" program is a higher priority for excess carcasses than the food bank. But Pease says ODFW biologists wanted the fresher, food-quality coho to go to hungry Oregonians and decided the stream-enrichment program should focus on the late-run coho whose carcasses often are not edible.

Oregon's needy aren't the only ones who are about to benefit from the collection of excess fish at Cole Rivers Hatchery.

Hatchery crews plan to recycle excess adult summer steelhead from the hatchery into the upper Rogue River within the next two weeks.

About 130 excess adult steelhead were present at the hatchery earlier this week, and Pease says he would like to collect a few more for another release of "retreads" before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Hatchery steelhead are no longer recycled into the upper Rogue at that date to reduce straying rates into wild steelhead spawning grounds.

"We'll get a load out before the deadline," Pease says.

When done, the fish likely will be released at the TouVelle State Park boat ramp where Table Rock Road spans the upper Rogue. The Modoc Unit of the Denman Wildlife Area — another retread hot-spot — likely won't get any of these fish because only the large fish-stocking truck is available, Pease says.

That truck once got stuck on the Modoc gravel bar because it was too large. A smaller truck will be available for use at the hatchery soon, Pease says.

Rafters and anglers wanting a prime summer weekend trip through the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River Canyon can begin the first stages of planning that trip this weekend.

Saturday marks the first day that boaters can apply for the lottery used to dole out permits for float trips along the 33-mile stretch from Grave Creek to Watson Creek between May 15 and Oct. 15.

Federal river managers cap the number of noncommercial and commercial launches at Grave Creek each day to spread usage out on the Wild and Scenic stretch.

The federal Bureau of Land Management, which shares management of the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Rogue with the U.S. Forest Service, is handling the lottery.

Noncommercial permit applications will be accepted through Jan. 31. Those who don't gain a permit through the lottery can do so by reserving launch dates not sought in the lottery, or they can get permits on a stand-by basis through the summer. Applications cost $6 apiece.

For more information and access to applications, check the BLM's Web site at www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/rogue/floatspace-lottery.php.

Others can telephone the BLM at 541-479-3735 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays.

The actual lottery drawing will take place in February, and successful applicants will be notified in early March. The last names of successful applicants also will be posted around mid-March on the BLM Web site mentioned above.

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