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Cole Rivers Hatchery spawns food bank helpings

The Rogue River's cornucopia of coho salmon again is providing a good source of protein for thousands of hungry Oregonians this holiday season.

Cole Rivers Hatchery workers last week supplied the last of 2,829 excess hatchery coho to the Oregon Food Bank in a program that distributes excess fish from hatcheries to the needy.

The fish are part of the half-million pounds of salmon that are reaching Oregon's neediest families during Christmas week.

It's definitely one of the more high-end items we get, said Mike Moran, the food bank's food-resource developer in Portland. It's one of the few foods that people call us and request.

The bulk of this year's salmon was sent out across Oregon this week, Moran said.

— But none so far have reached Medford, where ACCESS Inc. is the food bank's salmon distributor, said Philip Yates, nutrition program manager for the nonprofit organization.

The Cole Rivers fish are killed at the facility near Trail and processed by American/Canadian Fisheries, a Bellingham, Wash., company that also buys other excess hatchery fish for processing as food and other fish products.

A national survey shows Oregon remains one of the hungriest states in the country. Almost 13 percent of Oregon households still reported having difficulty providing food for all members of the family at some point during the year.

This is the fifth year of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife program.

The numbers of excess salmon donated to the program is down from last year, in part because returns to Oregon hatcheries were down overall, ODFW spokeswoman Anne Pressentin Young said.

Though coho returns to Cole Rivers Hatchery also were down, the facility was able to donate about 100 more fish this season.

The most coho supplied by Cole Rivers Hatchery was 5,146 excess fish in 2003.

David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager, said the salmon are considered excess because they are in addition to the coho needed for spawning. Also, the hatchery kills and freezes 1,500 coho carcasses for placement in area streams to put nutrients into the waters used by anadromous fish, Pease said.

The fall coho giveaway has occurred at hatcheries since the early 1990s, when food processors stopped offering competitive bids for excess hatchery coho.

When the bids dropped well below &

36;1 apiece, hatcheries began to provide free salmon to local charitable organizations, whose own volunteers took the carcasses and cleaned them before distributing them whole to needy families.

The ODFW, however, turned to the Oregon Food Bank to streamline the giveaways as well as create a way for the fish to reach needy Oregonians statewide instead of just those near coho-rich hatcheries.

It's at no expense to hunters, anglers and taxpayers, so it's a really great program, Pressentin Young said.

The program also creates a fall boon of high-protein food ' a hot commodity among social-service agencies that often find themselves short of protein-enriched foods ' that comes ready-to-distribute, Moran said.

It's the perfect item for us, Moran said. It comes pre-packaged, ready to move and it's of high value.

In exchange for processing the excess coho, American/Canadian Fisheries keeps the carcasses and roe. The roe is sold as fishing bait, and the carcasses are sold in various fish-product markets.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail Cole Rivers Hatchery spawns food bank helpings"mfreeman@mailtribune.com.