Biologists move fish out of the way ahead of dam removal

Biologists move fish out of the way ahead of dam removal »Play Video
Biologists use a long net in the White Salmon River Wednesday to capture salmon. The work is being done to protect them when the Condit Dam is breached.

WHITE SALMON, Wash. – Salmon that had been blocked by the huge 100-year-old Condit Dam with no fish ladder and no chance to get upstream since 1911 got a lift Wednesday from federal and state biologists.

The biologists captured the endangered Tule Fall chinook salmon by pulling a long net along the lower White Salmon River. Then they put them in trucks and released them above the dam.

When the dam is removed, more than 2 million cubic yards of sediment is expected to rush downstream and fill in all of the tiny spaces in the spawning gravels where the salmon lay their eggs. It will choke out the oxygen and suffocate the eggs. Biologists say it will cause high mortality rates in the salmon.

The rate at which juvenile salmon could die this year is especially high because they spawn at the very same time a giant hole will be blown through the 123-foot high dam.

Behind the dam is Northwestern Lake and it is already drawn down for the work. It now looks like the river it was 100 years ago. But the sediment behind the dam will rush downstream just before Halloween when the dam is finally breached.

"What we really want to do is salvage this year class – so the fish that are in here right now – we're about halfway through the spawning season," said Joe Skalisky, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish biologist.

So workers will continue to gather nets around 600 fish and move them by truck in makeshift aquariums above the dam and release them into waters their ancestors swam a century ago.

Biologists will be back on the river a month from now counting the number of salmon spawning beds upstream. That will give them an idea of just how successful this project was.
They did a test transplant of salmon three years ago and found 85 percent of the fish successfully spawned above the dam.

PacifiCorp had been under pressure for decades to remove the dam and make the White Salmon a free flowing wild and scenic river.

It agreed to remove Condit and pay for the $32 million project after deciding it was no longer profitable to generate electricity with the hydropower dam.