Steelhead eggs hit the road

Bill Nyara


South Santiam

Fish Hatchery

The crew at South Santiam Hatchery, along with volunteers, spawned over 1.5 million summer steelhead eggs this winter. These eggs were taken from returning fish collected at Foster Trap last summer. After incubating for 3-4 weeks, the eyed eggs from each spawning are picked and counted before they are shipped out.

The picking process is made easier with the use of a picking machine. This machine uses a photo-electric eye that determines if each egg is dead (white & opaque) or alive (red & translucent). As the wheel of this machine turns, it picks up eggs. The dead eggs are kicked out with a blast of air as they pass the photo eye. The live eggs continue on as the wheel turns and are kicked out with a stream of water. The machine will go through a thousand eggs in less than a minute, picking out most of the dead eggs. But some hand picking is necessary after the machine has done its job.

Once the eggs are picked, they are counted using another handy machine. This egg counter also uses a photo eye. As each egg passes in front of the eye, it is counted. Up to 3000 eggs per minute can be counted with this machine.

South Santiam Hatchery doesn’t incubate eggs past the eyed stage. After being counted, the eggs are shipped to other Oregon hatcheries where they hatch and begin rearing. Insulated egg crates or large coolers with trays are used to ship the eggs. With a little ice to keep the eggs moist and cool, they can spend several days in these shipping containers, if necessary. Eyed eggs have been shipped all over the world using this method.

All of the summer steelhead eggs taken at South Santiam Hatchery are shipped to either Bonneville Hatchery, in the Columbia Gorge, or Oak Springs Hatchery, in Central Oregon. The eggs that go to Bonneville Hatchery are hatched and raised there and released into the Clackamas and Sandy Rivers as smolts a year later. The eggs that go to Oak Springs Hatchery are hatched and reared there and are then spread out to several hatcheries around the state as fingerlings. South Santiam Hatchery receives 225,000 fingerlings from Oak Springs in early June. These fish are reared here until their release as smolts the following April. And the adults that return to Foster Dam 2-3 years later will be used to start the whole process over again.