Staff at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson are preparing for the 22nd annual Return of the Salmon Festival, set from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.
New this year are large public viewing platforms – a $500,000 addition – between sections of the fish ladder and jutting out over Battle Creek just below the diversion dam that directs fish into the fish ladder leading to the hatchery’s processing center, said Scott Hamelberg, project leader for the 75-acre facility.
“Our contractors completed the fish viewing platforms at the end of September so we are anxious to show them off,” Hamelberg said Tuesday, Oct. 9.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation paid for the additional platforms that also comply with all regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and amendments to the law made in 2008, Hamelberg said.
“We had to move all of the railings and make sure that all of our visitors would be safe,” he noted.
The goal of the open house is to educate and inform the public about the hatchery operations, the life-cycle of the salmon, the need for preserving and restoring spawning habitat and sustaining each unique species of the fish, Hamelberg noted.
“If we can get folks interested and impressed, we hope they are inspired to protect and preserve our native fishery resources. And then we want them to go out and try fishing for themselves,” said Hamelberg, who enjoys salmon when freshly caught either on the open ocean or from a river during the spawning migration.
Established in 1942 as mitigation for spawning habitat lost due to the construction of Shasta and Keswick dams, the Coleman hatchery hosts more than 50,000 visitors each year for self-guided tours. School groups visit the facility heavily from late September through Thanksgiving and nearly 200 were touring the grounds with volunteer guides as Hamelberg walked the grounds Tuesday.
Local residents interested in leading school tours or working to improve the hatchery are encouraged to call the hatchery office at (530) 365-8622 between 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
On-the-job training is available for those interested in volunteering, Hamelberg said.
“We have a great core group of volunteers. However, we are always looking for more to help lead school tours, help out during Salmon Festival time or with other activities,” Hamelberg noted in an after-tour email.
The annual Return of the Salmon Festival, held at the peak of the fall run of Chinook salmon returning from two to four years at sea draws an average of 5,000 to 10,000 people to the hatchery on a single Saturday, he noted.
Since parking at the hatchery and along the narrow access road is very limited, visitors are encouraged to take shuttle buses that will pick up passengers from the parking lot outside the Anderson Wal-Mart SuperCenter beginning at 9 a.m. Buses will run throughout the day at irregular intervals whenever a bus fills, Hamelberg said.
All visitors will be bused back to the Anderson Wal-Mart’s parking lot at the end of their visit and “none will be left behind,” he noted reassuringly.
This year, at least 52 groups will sponsor informational tables or activities suitable for families attending, he said.
“There will be plenty of fish to see. We are expecting between 100,000 and 200,000 adult fall run Chinook salmon in Battle Creek during the entire spawning season,” he said. “Historically, this will be a great run with numbers of fish rivaling the 2005 run.”
During spawning season, the hatchery’s 25 paid employees will process an average of 13,000 fish each week, collecting eggs from between 100-200 adult females for use in the hatchery’s spawning program, Hamelberg explained.
“Our production facility harvests enough eggs to release 12 million fall Chinook smolt each April. We also release another 1 million late-fall run Chinook smolt in December and January and 600,000 juvenile steelhead are also released each January,” he said.
Prior to release, a certain percentage of each species group is marked with a clipped fin and the insertion of a stainless steel wire tag coded with the hatchery location and release date.
When caught at sea or in the Sacramento River during the migration back to each fish’s genetically imprinted spawning ground, sport fishing enthusiasts assist hatchery officials by providing the catch date and location of each tagged fish, he noted.
During the spawning cycle, adult females are also sampled at the hatchery from throughout the entire run of each species to “maintain the genetic integrity” of each species, Hamelberg said.
Approximately 5,000 eggs are taken from the typical female and enough milt taken from the typical male fish to fertilize all of the eggs collected from a single female, he said.