Chinook salmon

Salmon at CougarBLUE RIVER: Hatchery raised male spring Chinook are far less fit than their natural counterparts. That’s the conclusion of a report on the trap and haul operation at the 518-foot tall Cougar Dam on the South Fork of the McKenzie River. In addition, researchers found that overall, natural origin females return as larger adults, giving them a spawning advantage in the wild.
The trap and haul operation, which began in 2010, traps both hatchery and wild spring Chinook salmon. They are then trucked above the dam and released into the river. The work aims to reintroduce salmon to habitat lost during the dam’s construction 50 years ago.
Spring Chinook salmon in the upper Willamette River are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Overall, they’ve lost 32 percent of their historical habitat in the Willamette River system due to dams. About 25 miles of their range in the McKenzie River was lost, according to the report published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Fish trapCOUGAR RESERVOIR: People coming around the turn at the top of Cougar Dam will be seeing a one-of-a-kind sight for the next two years. Floating at the corner of the reservoir is a $5 million metal fish trap.

Map of Homestead CampgroundBLUE RIVER: Efforts to reintroduce Chinook salmon in about 24 miles of high quality spawning and rearing habitat at Cougar Reservoir have included the construction of a truck fish and haul facility. The structure is part of an ongoing program to capture adult fish below the dam and transport them by truck to various locations above it, where they are released.

The trap and haul operation extends from late May to mid-October. The current method for “unloading” the fish from the transport trucks can be limited by terrain and poor access to desirable pools. Officials say this results in excessive and rough handling of the fish during the release process and increases the physiological stress on them. As a result, mortality rates are elevated and spawning success is reduced.

McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: Purchase copies online at: Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.