New aquarium popular at South Santiam Fish Hatchery

Alex Paul

A 1,200 gallon aquarium is drawing a lot of attention at the South Santiam Fish Hatchery according to manager Bill Nyra.

The unit, located near the main office, was built by the maintenance staff at the BPA.

“They were planning to build one that was portable, on a trailer, so we asked them to build us one if we’d buy the materials,” Nyra said.

The results were excellent, he said.

Visitors can get up close views of Chinook salmon, steelhead, trout and even sturgeon.

“People enjoy seeing the fish in our ponds, but they usually only get to see their backs,” Nyra said. “This way, they get a good, overall view of the fish.”

The tank is constructed of one inch thick Plexiglas.

Local staff members plumbed lake water into the tank as well as a source of well water for winter months when turbidity is high in the river water.

“If you think the river water is clear,” Nyra said, looking at the aquarium, “you should see the fish in well water. It’s like they’re floating in air.”

The aquarium holds the same amount of water as the delivery trucks staff members use to recycle fish into the river system.

Nyra said he would also like to initiate bass into the tank.

“Our goal is to keep it as low maintenance as possible,” he said. “We feed the fish every couple days and clean the tank about every two weeks.”

Since he took over management of the facility four years ago, Nyra has focused on inviting the public in.

“We try to keep things very clean even though we have a small staff,” Nyra said. “We have new road signs going up this year. We want more visitors.”

This season, Nyra said, the fish run has numbered 9,234 spring Chinook and 6,065 steelhead.

“Our traps are closed through August,” Nyra said.

A heavy run of Chinook at this time poses a problem since they clog into the traps which requires manual removal.

“At this stage of their life cycle, they don’t haul well,” Nyra said.

A heavy run this year caused staff to work the traps three days a week in June and July.

“We’d open the ladder for a half day and then spend two to three days getting fish out of the traps,” he said. “They can overwhelm the traps and we start losing fish.”

Nyra said there was a record return of 1,015 wild winter steelhead that were sent upstream.

“We’ve sent 1,700 Chinook upstream since April,” he added.

Staff members have also started marking all of the Chinook smolts, to help determine where fish recycling and angling successes are the highest.

Steelhead smolts have been clipped for years.

Nyra said volunteer hosts greatly assist the staff of four full-time and one seasonal worker.

ODFW staff are taking creel census figures from the dam to Lebanon on a regular basis in an attempt to get data from anglers.

“We want to get a handle on release sites and how fast the fish return,” Nyra said. “Our goal is to get more fish into creels. If a certain site is better than others, we’ll release more fish there.”

Nyra said the information gleaned by the project will be valuable “no matter where or when the fish shows up.”