Two businesses have expressed interest in taking over operations at Cole Rivers Hatchery from the state of Oregon to fulfill the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' salmon and steelhead release requirements in the Rogue River Basin.

Anchor QEA, LLC of Wenatchee, Washington, a firm that works on myriad natural-resources projects, and Prairie Springs Fish Farm in Dayville, near John Day, have responded to the Corps' market survey seeking interested and qualified businesses should it, as expected, offer a formal request for proposals later this month.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has operated the facility since it opened in 1974, will also be in the mix and plans to offer a bid should the Corps issue its request for proposals.

Prairie Springs raises trout and steelhead for sale to the state of Oregon, as well as to private parties in Central and Eastern Oregon. The company has been in operation since 1961, according to its website. Telephone calls to the facility were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Anchor QEA spokesman Carl Stivers declined to discuss the corporation's interest in the hatchery.

The deadline for filing answers to the Corps' market survey is today.

Corps officials said last week that a review of the rules that govern how it manages facilities like Cole Rivers concluded it was more appropriate to run the hatchery on a contract basis rather than under cooperative agreements with ODFW to run its seven Oregon hatcheries.

The Corps has said it intends to ask for bids on a one-year contract, with two one-year renewals, to run the facility. The market survey said the contract was anticipated to begin April 15, but Corps spokesman Matt Rabe said the plan is to award a contract in April, then the new operator would have to submit a transition plan so the changeover would not negatively impact fish.

The ODFW agreement expires June 30, and any new operator would begin July 1, Rabe said.

Cole Rivers raises about 3.3 million salmon, steelhead and trout annually, of which about 2.8 million are paid for by the Corps. The remainder are state-owned fish. The hatchery has a workforce of 16.5 full-time equivalent employees and annual budget of about $2 million, of which about 20 percent is paid by ODFW.

Prior to 1990, the Corps and ODFW had contracts for Cole Rivers operations, Rabe said. Since then the facility has been run via cooperative agreements.

The other Corps-funded and ODFW-run hatcheries, including Bonneville Hatchery on the Columbia River, will go through similar contract bids, Corps officials said.

Cole Rivers is a "mitigation hatchery" built to raise fish to make up for the wild salmon and steelhead lost when the Corps built Lost Creek and Applegate dams, which block wild fish from natural spawning grounds.

It raises about 2.58 million salmon and steelhead for release in the Rogue and Applegate rivers, as well as rainbow trout for release throughout the basin. In most cases, the fin-clipped salmon and steelhead raised and released from the hatchery are the only salmon and steelhead anglers can keep.

ODFW raises another 504,600 salmon and steelhead at Cole Rivers for release elsewhere in southwestern Oregon. If ODFW loses the contract at Cole Rivers, those fish would have to be raised elsewhere.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.