MEDFORD — An Oregon marine program is being billed as “stream enrichment," but it’s a lot smellier than it sounds.
That’s because the program really comes down to dumping hundreds of excess hatchery fish carcasses into tributaries. It’s a conservation program billed as a way to make up for the loss of marine-derived nutrients that get flushed from West Coast streams.
Fish biologist Chuck Fustish calls it the “no muss, no fuss method," and studies show carcass placement can put nutrients into streams that were absorbed by salmon in the ocean and carried inland during their spawning runs.
“We’re giving the whole ecosystem a boost in nutrients," Fustish said. “It will provide ocean nutrients in fish that would have been here normally. And it’s a lot more of a beneficial use than sending them to the landfill."
Cole River Hatchery workers are keeping thousands of extra salmon and steelhead carcasses this year, including thousands that would have gone to landfills in other years.
Cole River’s records show that 44,792 fish ended up in the landfill over the past 11 years, while 105,679 were released alive into streams and just 14,006 carcasses went to the stream-enrichment program.
Up to 19,200 pounds of salmon and steelhead will be recycled into local rivers and creeks this year, The Medford Mail Tribune reported.
“It’s a start," says Larry Butz, of Medford, vice president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “That’s a lot more than we expected, but we can handle it."
This year, fish will be tossed into 16 miles of streams in the Butte Creek, Evans Creek and Elk Creek systems in Jackson County as well as nearly five miles of Taylor Creek, a Rogue tributary in Josephine County.
All of the carcasses will be placed high in the systems and in stretches where water-quality testing has shown they do not already contain too many nutrients during fish-spawning months, Fustish said.
“It serves as a nutrient source for all of the communities in the streams," he said.
It’s quite a bit more beneficial than the phosphate and nitrate runoff from agricultural fertilizer, which Fustish said only leads to blue-green algae.