OMAK Spring Chinook may be returning to the Okanogan River in 2015 if the Colville tribe and National Marine Fisheries officials have their way.
During a meeting Tuesday night, more than two dozen officials gathered at Koala Street Grill to discuss efforts to reintroduce an “experimental” spring run to the river.
“The Colville tribe, they requested this,” National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Lynn Hatcher said.
According to Hatcher, the plan calls for taking 200,000 smolts from the hatchery in Winthrop and introducing them into the Okanogan River system in the Tonasket area.
But before that can happen, the federal government will have to approve of the plan and the experimental designation.
The designation would allow the fish to be re-introduced without penalties for agriculture, business, recreation and other incidental kills on the river. It also exempts the fish from endangered species-related laws.
National Marine Fisheries officials are accepting comments on the proposal through Dec. 9.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees National Marine Fisheries Service, will evaluate the proposal and comments in the spring.
The final determination to proceed would be made next April.
“I want you to understand the spring Chinook run is not going into the Okanogan on Dec. 10,” he said. “Re-introduction could be in spring 2015.”
Taking fish from the Winthrop hatchery would also enhance the wild fish run on the Methow River, Colville Tribal Fish and Wildlife Senior Research Scientist Casey Baldwin said.
The Winthrop hatchery is producing about 600,000 smolts annually. That number may put steelhead runs at risk on the Methow River.
Moving one-third of those smolts to the Okanogan River would give steelhead runs “space,” and allow for efforts to improve them, he said.
“We’d release them at the Tonasket pond with Riverside or Omak as contingencies,” he said.
Hatcher said his agency believes the proposal would “relieve some pressure on naturally returning adults” on the Methow River while potentially creating a sustainable spring Chinook run on the Okanogan River.