Sounds counter-intuitive, but dumping tons of salmon carcasses into rivers could help live salmon survive there. Host Steve Curwood talks with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Kathy Shinn about this unusual airdrop program.
CURWOOD: Wildlife officials in Oregon are trying a novel approach to increase the chances of survival for juvenile salmon. Recently, a helicopter dumped 37 tons of salmon carcasses into Oregon rivers. To explain why, I am joined now by Kathy Shinn, from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Ms. Shinn, how is unloading a bunch of dead salmon into these creeks going to help salmon who are trying to live there?
SHINN: What we're trying to do is mimic the natural system. When juvenile smolts or young salmon go out to the ocean and then they return, in three to five years, they carry back some of the nutrients that they acquired in the ocean. And those get recycled into the stream environment that nourishes the aquatic food chain on which those future young salmon depend.
CURWOOD: Why is a program like this necessary now?
SHINN: We have fewer returning wild fish. When we had abundant returns this natural process occurred on its own. So, we're trying to give a real boost to the system by providing carcasses at a level that we have not tried before, and we will be monitoring this to see if our efforts actually do produce more young wild salmon.
CURWOOD: I understand this is the first time you've used helicopters in this stream enrichment program. I'm curious as to how this exactly works. I mean, I'm guessing that the pilot just doesn't toss the fish out the window.
SHINN: No. As a matter of fact what we had is a large helicopter that had a long cable attached to a modified bucket. In that bucket there were 150 to 200 fish carcasses. The pilot flew along the stream and dropped those carcasses into specified areas of the stream.
CURWOOD: Well, just how much precision is required here, as you sprinkle these carcasses out of the helicopter?
SHINN: The pilots are actually very good at this. I'd say our success rate was very high in getting most of those carcasses into the stream. Even a few that get into the riparian areas along the stream do get eaten by other critters like bears, eagles. Those kind of animals will feed on those carcasses, as they always have, and recycle those nutrients into the system.
CURWOOD: Where do these dead fish come from?
SHINN: Our hatchery fish are used for several purposes. First of all, they're meant to be caught by sport and commercial anglers. Those that are not caught return to the hatchery and some of those are spawned to provide salmon for the future, to rear the brood stock for the next year. And those that are not used, if they are food quality fish, they may be donated to a food bank, to the federal prison system. And those that are not food quality, one of the beneficial uses is to use them in the stream enrichment program.
CURWOOD: I have to ask you, how does it smell?
SHINN: Well, you know, it doesn't smell real good, but that's part of the natural process that we sometimes don't like to think about. But historically, some of these streams, loaded with abundant wild fish returns, didn't smell real good. It eventually goes away.
CURWOOD: Kathy Shinn is an outreach specialist with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Thanks for filling us in on this project.
SHINN: Very happy to do so, Steve.
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