A fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed the first observed spawning sockeye in the Metolius River in over 45 years.
Mike Gauvin spotted the fish while conducting annual kokanee spawning surveys in the Metolius River near the town of Camp Sherman.
“I saw a flash of red color and was able to see the green tags that confirmed it was a sockeye,” he said. “I stayed very still so I would not disturb the fish and watched it swim over its redd. I snapped a few photos and was able to see the radio tag antenna trailing out of it mouth.”
According to Gauvin, this same sockeye had been captured earlier this summer at the fish trap located below the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex.
It was given two green tags to help to identify it as an ocean-going sockeye salmon returning to freshwater to spawn and not a kokanee, a landlocked form of sockeye salmon.
It was also given a radio tag so biologists could track its movements through Lake Billy Chinook and up the river. After tagging, the fish was release above the dams to continue its migration.
The fish is one of 85 sockeye released above the dam this year. These fish had spent one or two years in the ocean prior to making their return to the Deschutes River basin.
The sockeye and kokanee spawning migration is just beginning, Gauvin said, and fish biologists from ODFW, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric will be in the field until the end of October counting spawning fish.
“We have also passed about 25 spring chinook above the dams this year and, since they also spawn this time of year, we’ll be keeping an eye out for them as well,” said Gauvin.
The reintroduction program began in 2007 by outplanting over a half million each of juvenile steelhead and chinook in the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers.
The young fish then migrate downriver through a fish collection facility constructed by PGE and the Confederated Tribes at Round Butte Dam. From there they are released in the river below the dam to migrate to the ocean.
To try and reestablish a sockeye run in the Metolius River, kokanee from Lake Billy Chinook were collected and released below the dam to migrate to the ocean.
“The reintroduction program has been a large, complex and coordinated effort by many stakeholders,” Gauvin said. “We’re still in the beginning stages of this program, so it feels really good to see tangible results of our work.”