Pilot story and photos by Larry Ellis
GOLD BEACH Hundreds of senior citizens and less fortunate individuals will soon be savoring salmon fillets, because of the selfless efforts of the Curry Anadromous Fishermen (CAF).
The group is a nonprofit Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) volunteer project that also runs the Indian Creek Fish Hatchery.
Every year the hatchery supplements the Rogue River estuary with 75,000 smolt, which are spawned and raised exclusively by CAF, under the direction of volunteer coordinator Kathy Moore.
The survivors in the progeny are intended to populate the Rogue bay throughout the entire month of October, providing fishermen with red-hot action and tasty fillets to fill their skillets. With an average 2 percent survival rate, a minimum of 1,500 adult chinook return annually, honing in on their scented birth water of Indian Creek.
Because of premature October rains and an abundant food supply in the ocean, salmon ranging from 5 to 50 pounds have found their way into the hatchery's trap last week, leading to a bounty that already exceeded the demand for the hatchery's brood stock salmon.
"These are excess fish," said John Weber, district Salmon Trout Enhancement Program biologist. "This program provides CAF a good chance to give back to the community."
Every fish taken out of the trap is accounted for and records are logged by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. CAF volunteers work together as a unit to ensure that the finished product is of the highest quality.
While one group stands in the fish ladder, another person nets a salmon out of the trap. The fish is then determined to be male or female, measured, and then the net is quickly passed to another volunteer who hurries the fresh catch to the cleaning table.
After pre-processing the salmon, they are placed whole into containers, ready for shipping. CAF volunteers Nancy and Larry Schnider take the fish to The Cannery, a fish processing plant in Gold Beach, fillets the vacuum packs the fish. The couple then distributes packages to nine senior centers and food banks throughout Curry County.
A certain amount of salmon that return to the hatchery were fin-clipped when they were fingerlings, and microscopic identification tags were implanted in their snouts before they were released into the bay. Moore fondly refers to these prodigal returnees as her children.
The tags are later analyzed in a laboratory, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are the original Indian Creek fish spawned by CAF.
Wednesday, 299 filets were vacuum-sealed in plastic bags. Ten whole salmon were given to the Brookings Senior Center and 100 packages of fish were donated to the Brookings-Harbor food bank.
Yet the work of CAF is never finished. With salmon still entering the trap every day, it didn't take long before the cage was filled again. Packages of fresh king salmon will continue to be distributed by CAF as long as fish keep migrating up Indian Creek.
Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Curry Anadromous Fishermen may contact Moore at (541) 247-4608.