La Grande Observer: Coho salmon come home to Lostine River after 40-year absence


Two fish return, with perhaps thousands close behind

By Katy Nesbitt for The La Grande Observer

After a nearly 40-year absence, the first adult coho salmon entered the mouth of the Lostine River Sunday night. The silvery female is returning to the river where she was released as hatchery smolt in 2017.

According to Rick Zollman, production supervisor at the Nez Perce Tribe’s Lostine River weir, the female was 57 centimeters long, healthy and ripe with eggs. Just a day later, a 71 centimeter male coho found his way into the fish trap at the mouth of the river.

In an email Tuesday morning announcing the return of the first two fish from the 2017 release, Jim Harbeck, manager of the Nez Perce Tribe’s Joseph Fisheries office, joked, “Now they’re a couple.”

What isn’t a joke are the odds these fish overcame to get to the Lostine. Part of a reintroduction project sponsored by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tribe, this first couple of adult coho were some of 500,000 smolt, juvenile salmon ready to migrate to the ocean, released during a ceremony March 9, 2017.

Becky Johnson, Nez Perce Fisheries production division director, said her staff has been watching for data collected from tagged adult fish as they pass over the eight dams, from Bonneville on the Columbia River to Lower Granite on the Snake, from the Pacific Ocean to the Lostine River.

“We are holding our breath watching them come over the dams,” Johnson said. “So far we estimate about 2,100 have cleared the Bonneville and 300 have crossed Lower Granite.”

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