|Oregon Coast Notes|
|Fish Boom Makes Splash on Oregon Coast|
Adam Rice hasn't had a job since October. The 32-year-old carpenter is a victim of the region's housing slump, one of almost 130,000 Oregonians to tumble into the ranks of the unemployed in the past six months.
But he is working hard to feed his family: on the river.
This month, it's steelhead, the ocean-dwelling member of the rainbow trout family beginning its return migration to Oregon. Steelhead, along with Coho and Chinook salmon, have made a spectacular return to local streams in the past year, leaving sportsmen exultant and putting food on the tables of struggling Oregonians.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife hatchery here has already surpassed last year's count of 1,400 steelhead. Fisheries manager Joe Watkins calculates his crew could take in as many as 3,000 steelhead before the run ends next month—fish that will spawn tens of thousands of juvenile "smolts" that will be released to swim downstream and mature in the Pacific.
Numbers for other species are even more impressive. More than 680,000 Coho salmon returned to Oregon last year, double the number in 2007. The Coho run was so bountiful the ODFW called in volunteers to herd fish into hatchery pens. There were reports of creeks so choked with salmon, "you could literally walk across on the backs of Coho," said Grant McOmie, outdoors correspondent for a television news team in Portland.
And ODFW forecasters expect more than half a million spring Chinook salmon to start swimming upstream in March, about two and half times 2009's run, and nearly four times what came home in 2007. That would be the biggest spring Chinook run since 1938, when Oregon began keeping records of returning Pacific fish.
It is all part of a fish rebound no one expected. In 2007, one state office warned, "Populations of anadromous [or oceangoing] fish have declined dramatically all over the Pacific Northwest. Many populations of Chinook, Coho, chum and steelhead are at a tiny fraction of their historic levels." The year before that, a naturalist in Seattle wrote: "It is hard to find the silver lining in a situation as dire as the collapse of wild salmon off the Oregon and California coasts."
Among the factors blamed for putting fish in peril are pesticide poisoning, overfishing and global warming, as shrinking mountain glaciers lead to reduced spring melt-offs, which means less water in the creeks where fish spawn.
Yet today's fish boom doesn't necessarily signal a long-term turnaround in fish fortunes. It might simply indicate that a few generations of fish have been lucky.
The main reason for the population surge, scientists here say, is a brief period of cooling in the Northern Pacific ocean in 2008. Cooler currents brought in fatter plankton, which salmon and steelhead smolts thrive on, said ODFW spokesman Rick Swart. Temperatures have since warmed up again.
Mr. Swart added that federally mandated outflows of Columbia River water, which increased during the last decade, helped more smolts get past predators and into the ocean, another factor in increased survival rates. Outflow levels are set each year; last year a federal judge maintained the previous year's level.
"It was a perfect storm of conditions for the fish," he said...