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Putting The Spa in Spawn: Tribe Creates Refuge For Exhausted Fish

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Joe Blodgett (right), with the Yakama Nation's steelhead rehabilitation center, lifts a fish out a tub where they're fed highly nutritious pellets.

The Yakama Nation’s steelhead reconditioning program is like a retreat spa for fish. And it's changing the circle of life for the species.

When a Columbia River steelhead completes its epic journey from ocean to spawning grounds, it is usually too exhausted to make it back down the river again. Often, the fish just dies.

But tribal biologists have created a rehabilitation center that helps steelhead recover so they can get another chance to spawn again in the future.

“We’re hoping that with all the nutrients we can put back in them, they will regenerate the eggs and go back up and spawn for a second and third time,” says Joe Blodgett. He runs this program for the Yakama Nation fisheries in Prosser.

Inside huge tubs, large shadowy fish swim in circles. They spawned last fall and now they’re fed highly nutritious pellets. Their silvery bellies are once again swollen with fat and eggs.

This is the 12th year of this fish rehabilitation program. It costs hundreds-of-thousands of dollars each season. Bonneville Power pays for it, but Blodgett says it gives adult fish another chance to pick their own stream, mate and nesting site.

Blodgett hopes he’s helping the fish to recover, so he can take his son fishing as often as he used to with his father.

“The salmon are part of us," he says. "They are part of our culture, part of our identity and part of bringing our people together. They mean a lot to us and we will just not accept that the population is diminishing.”

These chubby mamas -- some with pink and red backs – appear healthy and rested, ready to face life’s race upstream yet again.

On the Web:

Yakima Basin Steelhead Kelt Reconditioning - Yakama Nation Fisheries 

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.