HomeOutdoorsNearly 250K Fish Escape Washington Hatchery

Nearly 250K Fish Escape Washington Hatchery

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Washington fish hatchery lost nearly 250,000 fish, and officials cite a rubber gasket failure as the culprit.

Fox News reported that Washington wildlife officials lost 249,770 young steelhead trout at the Lyons Ferry Hatchery near the Snake River basin.

The Lyons Ferry Hatchery, located near Palouse Falls, is a two-hour drive southwest of Spokane. Officials don’t know how many survived their escape.  

Officials Just Learned Of Hatchery Fish’s Escape

Typically, the hatchery releases 60,000 steelhead in the spring and summer months. They refrain from releasing fish in the fall or winter months.

Officials said they only recently noticed the missing fish last month. They said they did not expect the fish to survive based on age and the likelihood of predators in the river.

However, if they did survive, there would be an increased steelhead population in the Snake River. Maybe that’s a silver lining.

A preliminary investigation has pinpointed a faulty rubber gasket that the young steelhead swam through. There was only an inch-and-a-half opening for the thousands to escape through. Reports say over 60 percent of the hatchery’s supply escaped. Officials decided to take the remaining 135,000 steelhead to Cottonwood Acclimation Pond near the Oregon border.

Officials will release the fish into the Grande Ronde River in April. They’ll likely make it back to the Columbia basin in 2023.

Fishing Season Impacted By Great Escape

So, will steelhead fishing be a bust next year?

Chris Donley, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Eastern Region fishery manager, told the Tri-City Herald that the animal’s survival has been down in the past five years.

Anglers wanting to find some steelhead in 2023 and early 2024 may be out of luck.

If Donley knew when the fish went missing, estimates would be different. If they escaped in September or October, walleye could quickly gobble them up.

However, if they left later in their growing process, Donley said they’d have better odds of survival.

“If they left later in the rearing process, they have a higher chance of survival,” he said.

Investigation Started Over Water Discovery

According to the Herald, officials may have let the fish escape when January crews pumped the water in the hatchery’s rearing pond.

That water went straight into the river, begging the question, did anyone look to see any fish getting out? Crews did this drawdown while preparing to move the fish from the pond to the hatchery.

When the staff found fewer stock in the pond, they soon found out why. It was the gasket’s deterioration.

Even though staff replaced the gasket before the fish entered the pond, nobody did regular checks. Why? The newspaper reported that officials figured there wasn’t a problem before.

“Normally, I can tell you staff were at fault when we have a fish loss,” he told the newspaper. “In this case, I don’t believe this was a staff failure. This was an equipment failure.” 

Donley said a permanent metal-based screen system would replace the rubber gasket. He added that the plastic gasket did not have previous issues and that because it was six feet deep, who knew about thousands of steelhead escaping?