BROOKINGS — Chetco River anglers are helping create future runs of winter steelhead by catching and donating wild adult steelhead this winter to be used as broodstock for future hatchery releases.
About half of the 60 adult steelhead collected so far this season as broodstock for next year's smolt releases have been caught by anglers and donated to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife under this program.
The program is gaining popularity among ODFW biologists and anglers because it reduces the number of steelhead that have to be netted — usually from the same holes favored by anglers.
"It's been pretty positive," says John Webber, ODFW's STEP biologist in Gold Beach, who is overseeing the program. "There's not as much interaction between the anglers and netters."
Five Chetco-based fishing guides have special tanks or coolers in their driftboats, and three more coolers are available on a loaner basis at the Riverside Market to collect fish. They are fitted with bilge pumps and aerators to keep fish alive in the tanks, Webber says.
Anglers who catch wild fish can place them in the tanks instead of releasing or tagging and keeping them. Someone on each boat must have a permit from Webber that allows them to possess and transport live steelhead for the program, which makes keeping the live fish legal.
Anglers do not have to log their catch on their harvest tag when donating a fish under the program, Webber says.
The adult steelhead are either collected by ODFW biologists or technicians at the Social Security Bar takeout or they are left in special pens secured in the water at nearby Freeman Bar.
The adult fish are trucked to the Elk River Hatchery near Port Orford, where they are spawned and their progeny are reared.
The program uses up to 120 adult wild steelhead to spawn enough eggs to grow the 50,000 smolts released annually at Social Security Bar.
Hatchery steelhead can easily be differentiated from wild fish because a hatchery-bred steelhead has a clipped adipose fin on its back between its dorsal fin and tail.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.