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'Recycled' spring chinook make for good eatin'

My son likes to fish on the upper Rogue River for salmon and he brought one home yesterday, which is unusual because he doesn't often catch salmon. But even more unusual was that this particular salmon had a small, perfectly round hole cut into the side of his head near the gills. He didn't notice it until he brought it home. Is this unusual? I assume it's safe to eat, right?

— Mike, Medford

What your son has there, Mike, is a freshly caught Rogue River hatchery spring chinook salmon that is more than plenty good to eat. In fact, we at Since You Asked Central say it's the finest eating salmon in all of Oregon, even though those are fightin' words when pointed toward our friends along the Columbia River.

That hole in the fish's gill plate, however, isn't some natural occurrence or some bizarre phenomenon like crop circles or Sasquatch videos.

It's a punch put into the gillplate at Cole Rivers Hatchery before it was trucked 36 miles back down the Rogue to Gold Hill and released. It is one of more than 4,000 excess spring chinook captured at the hatchery then returned to the Rogue to give anglers another shot at catching and keeping it.

This popular recycling program is a solution to having excess fish captured in the hatchery and sold. They're raised to be caught and kept by anglers like your son, so more power to you.

Hatchery Manager David Pease says they have a target of releasing 4,000 excess spring chinook each season before July 1, the cut-off date developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure these released salmon don't stick around in the Rogue and spawn with wild fish later this summer.

With 670 excess spring chinook getting trucked to Gold Hill on June 17, that put this year's releases at 4,012, Pease says.

As of June 17, this year's collection at the hatchery was 4,981 spring chinook (with recycled fish counted just once). That's just about on par for the past three years and strongly ahead of the running 10-year average of 3,147 spring chinook captured there by mid-June, hatchery records show.

If you're still leery about eating that gill-punched spring chinook, just swing by the Mail Tribune and the Since You Asked Central crew will gladly take it off your hands.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.