BRIDGEPORT — Two months after the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation opened the Chief Joseph Hatchery, thieves made off with dozens of summer chinook being held for broodstock.
Losing an estimated 42 adult fish that were ready to produce more than 73,000 young salmon for later release was bad enough.
But even worse, tribal officials are warning that whoever took the fish have exposed themselves to a cancer-causing chemical.
The fish, in a broodstock pen below the hatchery, were treated with Formalin and should not be handled or eaten, a notice posted on the Colville Tribes’ website says.
“If you believe you have consumed or handled these fish, then it is recommended that you should immediately seek medical attention,” it says.
Colville Tribal Police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to conviction of the poachers.
Tribal Chairman said he people are cautious of any salmon that may have come from an unlikely source to be wary, and contact tribal officials.
“We’ve done all we can on our end to try to educate the public that those fish aren’t safe,” he said.
The loss of these fish is also significant to the tribes’ effort to bring more fish to the upper Columbia River for both tribal and non-tribal fishermen.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to set us back,” Finley said.
Salmon are collected all season and held until they’re ready to be spawned. To get a good sampling of salmon that are likely to return at different times of the spring, summer and fall, the adults from which the eggs are taken should also be gathered from different times of the spawning season, he said.
“We literally have to wait until next year” to get salmon that will return at the same time, he said.
Tribal police are investigating the case, and the tribe will close the North Shore Access Road at Chief Joseph Hatchery at sunset every day due to the theft.
Anyone with information can contact tribal police at 634-2472.
Jack McNeel, Indian Country Today Media Network, July 22, 2013
The salmon once swam freely throughout the upper Columbia River, and plucking them from the waters represented an opportunity to benefit all the Colville Tribes by sharing the bounty.
“What a beautiful experience it was,” said Mel Taulou, an elder of the Colville Confederated Tribes, at a recent ceremony celebrating the first fish to be taken from the Chief Joseph Hatchery. He and others spoke of the sharing associated with fishing, of the exchange of fishing gear if someone was lacking something, and of sharing their catch with elders, friends and family.
“You gave freely. Everybody did. That’s the way it was,” said tribal member and longtime fisherman Lionel Orr, who sang in honor of the first fish as it was lifted from the river in the First Salmon ceremony. “That’s the way I was taught by the older fishermen.”
The salmon was then filleted, smoked, and later everyone present at the pre-opening ceremony was offered a taste of the first salmon.
About 800 people gathered near Chief Joseph Dam for the grand opening of the brand new Chief Joseph Hatchery on a rainy, overcast June 20. The water did not dampen their enthusiasm. Rather, since rain fills the rivers for salmon and is the lifeblood of the region, it was welcomed on this day in particular.
Although the day included a ribbon cutting and other opening celebrations, it was also an opportunity to honor the fishermen and their contributions to keeping this part of tribal custom alive and in passing their knowledge on to younger tribal members. The crowd gathered around tables under a huge tent to listen as representatives from tribal, state and federal agencies spoke about the history leading to this moment and what the hatchery would mean for the future.
The celebration concluded with tours of the hatchery, a full lunch featuring salmon, and the traditional ribbon cutting signifying the opening of the hatchery and completion of a promise made seven decades earlier.
Colville Tribal Chairman John Sirois, center, cuts the ribbon for the long-awaited Chief Joseph Hatchery on the Colville Reservation, June 20, 2013. He is flanked by representatives of partner groups from the federal and tribal governments. (Photo: Jack McNeel)
The salmon’s freedom was first cut off by a series of dams that impeded their return to the spawning grounds. In the 1930s a number of dams throughout the Columbia basin were being planned, and tribes in the region were bracing themselves for the disastrous effect these constructs would have on fish runs and thus on tribal members’ lives. Four hatcheries were promised to help mitigate those effects on the Entiat, Wenatchee, Methow and Okanogan watersheds.
“Three of the four hatcheries were constructed between 1939 and 1942,” said Jim Brown, with the Washington Department of Fisheries and Game. Then came World War II. The hatchery plans were put on hold. Chief Joseph Hatchery, the fourth, had to wait. The wait is now over.
“Today’s event gives us the chance to celebrate the fulfillment of the 70-year old commitment,” Brown said at the opening. “Chief Joseph Hatchery is a tremendous accomplishment.”
The hatchery sits on 15 acres of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property within the Colville Indian Reservation. It will be managed by the Colville Tribes under guidelines recommended by scientists as requested by Congress. It includes 40 raceways, each measuring 10 feet by 40 feet, plus three rearing ponds and three acclimation ponds, some onsite and some offsite.
“This is a modern hatchery built to the highest modern standards of science,” said Lorri Bodi of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). “It represents 30 years or more of progress in trying to meet the commitments by the federal government to tribes and the region. It represents a major step in our efforts to get fish back into the rivers of the Northwest.”
It was a collaborative effort involving the Colville Tribe, BPA, US Army Corps of Engineers, several Public Utility Districts and the NW Power & ‘Conservation Council. Funding came from the BPA and area public utility districts, Bodi said.
The $50 million hatchery will annually release up to 2.9 million chinook salmon.
“We’re going to see natural spawning of fall and summer chinook in the Okanogan River and we’re going to see spring chinook in the Okanogan basin for the first time in many, many years,” said Tom Karier from the Northwest Power & Conservation Council.
“It’s been a historic day,” said Tribal Chairman John Sirois, who was the day’s emcee. “It really touched my heart hearing stories from our elders about our history. We are salmon people. The salmon sacrifice for us in a sacred way. We also make that sacred commitment to them, to provide their water. I am so grateful, thankful and humbled by all the work that went into making this hatchery possible.”
BRIDGEPORT — Hundreds came Thursday to celebrate the new, $50 million hatchery, its concrete raceways, its incubation building, its state-of-the-art plans to raise and release 2.9 million chinook salmon while protecting their wild cousins.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation officially opened the Chief Joseph Hatchery bordering the southwest corner of their reservation.
Funded by ratepayers through the Bonneville Power Administration along with Grant, Douglas and Chelan County PUDs, the new facility is expected to bring thousands more spring and summer chinook back to the upper Columbia River for both tribal and non-tribal fishermen.
Those who gathered for opening ceremonies spoke largely about the history of events that led to this day, hailed as the fulfillment of a promise made by the U.S. government before the Great Depression.
First, a traditional salmon song and then tribal members caught the hatchery’s first salmon using a pole net.
Whooping cries and large smiles erupted as the salmon was laid on the aluminum platform, then filleted at a table nearby, its eggs and innards tossed back to the Columbia below.
After the riverside ceremony, tribal fishermen were honored, many speaking of times when the fish were abundant, and shared by all.
It was this place where Colville tribal fishermen came to fish after the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, and later Chief Joseph Dam — just across the river. The dams erased Kettle Falls, one of the largest fishing spots on the Columbia River, where tribes from around the region gathered yearly.
With no fish passage, the dams were barriers to spawning salmon, which still return each year to the concrete wall that prevents them from completing their journey.
So fishermen came here to fish from the rocks, and the bridge, or the wall below the dam.
World photo/K.C. Mehaffey
Freshly caught salmon was cooked and dried using traditional methods at opening ceremonies for the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday. Hundreds of people came to celebrate the new facility, which will produce nearly 3 million smolts for release.
“If you needed something, we all shared,” said Lionel Orr, who had offered up the morning’s salmon song. “It was like a community. If I had fishing line, or hooks, I’d give it to you. It was really a good experience.”
Mel “Bugs Hook ‘Em In The Lips” Toulou recalled being accepted into the clan after catching his first salmon on a ten-foot bamboo pole. “What you feel down here is the brotherhood, and the family that you gain,” he said. They used to catch 50 and 60 pound fish, he said, and their fathers and grandfathers reeled in 100-pounders. Today, the salmon average 25 pounds he said.
Ernie Williams recalled catching 750 pounds of salmon in 72 hours once. And then giving it away to elders on their way home. He praised the rain as “soul cleansing,” and said his mother, Mary Marchand, and other elders who had passed on were there with them. “Those past fishermen too. I know they’re all here, and they’re smiling, too.”
Officials, too, spoke of the past.
John Smith, the first director of the Colville Tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department, talked about the collaborative effort it took to build the hatchery, with not only the tribes, but state and federal agencies, PUDs and the support of other tribes.
He said he hopes people aren’t upset when they see tribal members catching these new hatchery salmon from boats or scaffolds, using nets or spears.
“What you’ve got to remember is, we’ve been denied a lot of good fisheries for a lot of years,” he said. “I’ve seen the devastation that’s been caused,” he said.
Fish were once 50 percent of their diet, and the dams cut off that food source for so many, he said. “That was like cutting you off from Safeway or Walmart. That’s what it did to our people.”
Federal officials also spoke of the impact that these dams without fish passage had on tribal people, and the promises made to for another hatchery.
Tom Karier, a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, said an old document of an 1800s missionary near Kettle Falls revealed that it was not uncommon for tribal fishermen to catch 1,000 fish a day, or count hundreds of salmon jumping out of the water on their way upstream.
“We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “Today, we celebrate significant progress.”
World photo/K.C. Mehaffey
Sneena Brooks, Robbie Stafford and Dan Edwards were among the drummers singing an honor song for elder tribal fishermen at the opening of the Chief Joseph Hatchery on Thursday.
Leroy Williams, a tribal fisherman who is teaching others the old ways of fishing with hoop nets and dip nets, recalled discovering the letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for a fourth hatchery while sorting through papers for the tribe’s fish and wildlife department. The Great Depression and World War II delayed the project, and he promise had been forgotten until they rediscovered this letter.
Hatcheries had been built at Leavenworth, Entiat and Winthrop, but this one was delayed by the Great Depression and World War II, and then forgotten.
The new hatchery is located on 15 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the north bank of the Columbia River, just downstream of Chief Joseph Dam. The complex includes 40 raceways, three rearing ponds, and three acclimation ponds. It draws water from wells and the reservoir behind the dam, known as Rufus Woods Lake.
Colville Tribal Chairman John Sirois expressed gratitude for all the support from tribal members and former council members, agencies, and other tribes.
“This is truly humbling, and a day that we’ll remember forever,” he said.
Elsewhere on the Columbia River, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes began commercial sales from their summer fishery on June 17, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission announced.
“This is the first significant commercial fishery of 2013,” the commission said in a media release. “Pre-season forecasts estimate 73,500 summer chinook and 180,500 sockeye. Depending on the actual run sizes, Indian fishers may harvest approximately 20,000 summer chinook and 12,000 sockeye, most of which will be sold commercially.”