By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
TOLEDO — It’s fish rearing time again for the Friends of the Cowlitz.
Monday morning they took delivery of nearly 55,000 spring Chinook salmon smolts at the holding nets on a pond at Toledo Sand & Gravel, a job that took nearly all day and 10 truckloads.
These smolts will remain in the Toledo pond holding pen until spring, when they will be released into the Cowlitz River. By then they will have grown from their current size of 9 to 10 fish per pound to 5 or 6 fish per pound.
“Releasing the fish in different areas, other than just the Blue Creek or Barrier Dam, spreads out the fisheries so that everybody gets a chance at these fish,” said Don Glaser, president of the Friends of the Cowlitz and owner of Barrier Dam Campground. “The fish are imprinted to this area of the river, they’ll come back here.”
In two or three years, Glaser said, this batch of spring Chinook will return from their ocean journey.
“We have a really good return rate,” said Glaser, who, with the cooperation and support of the WDFW, had in previous years conducted studies to ensure that the success rate of the returns made the efforts of the Friends of the Cowlitz worthwhile.
Raising anadromous fish (including steelhead, salmon and cutthroat trout) for release into the Cowlitz River is a big part of the mission of the Friends of the Cowlitz year, taking delivery of the spring Chinook smolts this week is just the beginning of a winter-long effort.
Next month the Friends of the Cowlitz expect to take in 10,000 cutthroat trout into a pond “about a mile up from the Toutle,” and then 100,000 summer-run steelhead will be split between the Wallace Ponds on the Vader flats and the ponds near Toledo.
The Friends of the Cowlitz oversees a total of twelve fish rearing ponds, “and every one of them are full of fish,” Glaser said with pride.
Over the winter the fish will be fed three to four times each week. Weight samples will be taken periodically to make sure the fish are progressing well.
“It’s all volunteer labor,” Glaser said of the labor-intensive feeding program.
“We used to have ‘on-demand’ feeders, but we found out that the bigger fish were getting most of the food and the little ones were left to starve,” he said.
The fish rearing programs, set up through the WDFW, requires the Friends of the Cowlitz to file detailed reports and maintain the licensing and permit requirements under state and federal law.
It’s a lot of work, says Glaser, but helping to restore the upper watershed fishery above the dams and increase the fishing opportunities for local fishermen make all of the various year-long efforts of the Friends of the Cowlitz worthwhile.
Friends of the Cowlitz
The Friends of the Cowlitz is a non-profit organization, formed in 1988, “by a group of concerned individuals who had watched the runs of salmon and steelhead become smaller and smaller each year after the hydroelectric dams were constructed by the City of Tacoma.”
The group has a mobile fish pond that they take to various events around western Washington, providing free fishing for kids and educational materials for inform the public and raise awareness about river fishery issues. They also host an annual Easter egg hunt, a drift boat raffle, raise anadromous fish (salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout) for release into the Cowlitz River.
Membership fees range from $20 for a senior or junior (14 and under) member to $30 for a regular annual membership. Corporate and Benefactor sponsorships are also available.
The Friends of the Cowlitz has an office in Toledo, next door to the NAPA autoparts store near the Toledo boat launch. You can also find information online at http://barrierdam.com/friendsofthecowlitz/index.html or you can visit Don Glaser at the Barrier Dam Campground on Fuller Road to learn more about joining the Friends of the Cowlitz.