Siuslaw Spawn by Tim Vandehey
On most days during January and early February, Winter Steelhead run through Whittaker Creek. Feeding into the Siuslaw River, Whittaker Creek and the fish trap that is on site serves as a Steelhead data collection site for Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. ODFW collects Steelhead Roe and Milt for artificial propagation; volunteers from Florence STEP (Salmon Trout Enhancement Program) typically assist with the data collection and spawn. This group of fishing buddies drive to Whittaker Creek every Monday and Thursday morning to help ODFW out. Counting the Steelhead gives ODFW an accurate number of how many fish spawned during the season and provides them with data to set fishing regulations for the next year’s run. After the Roe and Milt are collected from hatchery fish, ODFW and Florence STEP release the fish back into the water. They collect from the hatchery fish because there are not enough wild Steelhead that make it up to Whittaker Creek. Since the season is so short, brood is collected from January until the end of March, work must be done efficiently in order to maximize egg collection. Even fisherman maximize their time on the river “That’s why so many guys get in trouble on Valentine’s Day around here,” said Tom Dixon of Florence STEP “they’ve got to get their last days out on the river for the season.” In a three-hour time span, the group counted and collected from 189 Steelhead, 73 males and 96 Females. Eggs and Milt were collected from 30 males and 30 females, with an estimated 30,000 eggs collected, the larger the fish, the more eggs that it will produce while spawning. “For the Siuslaw program, we only need about 85 pairs of fish to get the eggs that we need each season, but this year we are spawning probably twice that number of fish and only keeping a portion of the eggs from each female.” says Christine Clapp, Fisheries Biologist with ODFW “The goal is to maximize the number of family groups in our steelhead program, which should help a little bit with diversity - even though we aren't able to incorporate wild fish into the brood. So the smolts will come from over 160 different individual females, rather than 85.” The collected spawn is taken to the Alsea Hatchery to be artificially propagated and in the first week of May, Smolts are released into Whittaker Creek to acclimate to the river before swimming downstream. In recent years, Steelhead migration numbers in recent years have been in decline. Watersheds are in trouble and activist groups like Florence STEP are doing everything in their power to conserve the species. More Watershed Groups: • Florence STEP • Deschutes River Alliance • Western Rivers Conservancy