The Oregon Seal Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  
 » ODFW Home   »  Resources   »  Visitor's Guide
About Us Fishing Hunting Viewing License/Regs Conservation Living With Wildlife Education
Visitor's Guide

West MapThe ODFW Visitors' Guide

Northwest Region | Southwest Region | Northeast Region | High Desert Region

South Santiam Hatchery - Raising Hatchery Salmon

How salmon are raised at the South Santiam Fish Hatchery

Fish Return to Hatchery

Returning salmon and steelhead are caught in the fish trap at Foster Dam. Many steelhead are recycled down river for fishermen to try to catch again. Salmon and steelhead are held in the adult holding pond at the hatchery until needed for egg production. Wild returning winter steelhead are released above the dam to continue their journey up river. In September, hatchery workers and volunteers from the Northwest Steelheaders work at the South Santiam Fish Hatchery to collect eggs for fertilizing. They remove the eggs from female salmon, fertilize the eggs by milking sperm from male salmon. The eggs are incubated and shipped out over the next several months at the hatchery.

Returning Fish Hen Chinook Male Chinook Salmon
Returning Salmon in the fish trap Workers lift female Chinook Salmon from holding pen. A worker holds a male Chinook Salmon.

Collecting salmon eggs

The ripe female salmon are humanely killed. Ripe eggs are removed and fertilized by mixing with male sperm. In the wild, a female salmon will lay her eggs in gravely stream beds. Both males and females die shortly after spawning, completing their life cycle.

Anesthetized Fish Collecting Eggs Kidney Check
Female Chinook Salmon have been humanely killed. Eggs are removed and placed in a bucket to be fertilized. Pathologists regularly check for kidney disease in spawned chinook.

Collecting salmon sperm

Hatchery workers "milk" the male salmon and carefully mix the sperm with the eggs. The actual act of fertilization takes place after the eggs and sperm are both placed into the bucket (below). The ovarian fluid around the eggs acts as an activator for the sperm. The fertilization process can be completed within thirty seconds, depending on the condition of the eggs and sperm. The bucket of eggs and sperm will be kept as a family group -- a single male and female spawned together. The hatchery culls out any family group that shows positive results to disease testing done at the time of spawning. This single bucket or family group is assigned a number. The incubator tray that the bucket's fertilized eggs are poured into is also assigned the same number. Soon after spawning in the wild, both male and female salmon will die, ending a trek that started in a remote stream or fish hatchery and covered thousands of miles in river and ocean.

Collecting Sperm Fertilizing Eggs Mixing Eggs and Sperm
Workers "milk" the sperm from the male salmon. The sperm is poured into a bucket with eggs. The sperm and eggs are carefully hand-mixed to assure that the eggs are fertilized.

Processing salmon eggs

Shocking Eggs
Duane Banks, Hatchery Assistant Manager, shocks eggs.

The eggs that were fertilized in the bucket, are poured into an incubator tray that contains an iodine solution which kills any disease on the outside of the egg. The eggs stay in this standing bath solution for fifteen minutes during the disinfection process. At the end of the fifteen minute period, the tray is pushed into the incubation stack and fresh water starts flowing through it. The hatchery uses four gallons of water per minute for a stack of fifteen trays, which is one incubation unit. The hatchery has the capacity to incubate between 1.6 and 2. 1 million eggs in thirty incubation units, if they were all filled at once.

The actual development does not really begin until the eggs are placed into the water. At this time the egg rapidly absorbs water to start the process. Eggs are very tender and sensitive to sunlight or rough handling for about the first third of their development. At this point we actually do very little with the eggs, except to treat them for a parasitic fungus three times a week. We also keep track of their maturation process with a method called temperature units (TUs).

This is done by recording the high and low temperature everyday to find the average temperature for that day. Then we subtract 32 degrees from this average daily temperature to find the TUs for that day, i.e. 50 degrees subtract 32 degrees equals 18 temperature units for that day. We then keep track of cumulative TUs per day to know when the eggs will reach the next stage of development so we can handle them.

This next stage of development is called the "eyed egg stage" -- about 350 TUs for Steelhead and 600 TUs for Chinook -- because you can see the eyes of the embryos in the egg. At this stage the eggs are really tough and can be handled quite roughly.

Since we never get one hundred percent fertilization some eggs die and turn white as they die and others are what we call "blanks." These eggs are infertile but they do not turn white. To get "blank" eggs to turn white we shock the eggs. This is done by agitating the eggs -- pouring, siphoning or shaking them.

Shocking turns dead eggs white. They are then separated from the developing red eggs. Eggs are now picked "clean" and ready to be counted.

During the process of shocking, a membrane in the egg is broken and allows water from the outside to come into the egg and turn it white. This usually occurs within twenty four hours after shocking. We want the dead eggs to turn white because it is easier to pick the dead eggs out from the good eggs.

After the eggs have turned white we have a machine that will separate the fertile (semi-transparent) from the dead (white) eggs using a photoelectric eye. We also hand pick the eggs to remove malformed and under-developed eggs. We have a machine that will count the eggs for us to get an inventory on the good and the bad eggs to determine the average number of eggs per female. We count the good eggs into groups for shipping.

The next stage of incubation is not done at this hatchery because of our historically poor water conditions during the winter season (when the bulk of the incubation of eggs and fry is done). So we ship the eggs to other hatcheries and later receive them back as fingerlings to rear until they reach release size.

Feeding the salmon smolts

Fish food arrives at the hatchery by the semi-truck load from one of several manufacturers. The hatchery uses approximately 100,000 pounds of fish pellet feed annually. It costs an average of 45 cents per pound or about $45,000 for fish feed per year. Every morning the fish pellets are broadcast by hand into the rearing ponds. The fingerling salmon boil to the surface the moment the pellets hit the water. Often times, feeding is required several times each day.

Fish truck
Hand-feeding fish
Fish boil to surface
Fish food arrives at the hatchery by the semi-truck. Every morning the fish pellets are broadcast by hand. The fingerling salmon boil to the surface the moment the pellets hit the water.

Fin-clipping and tagging hatchery-raised salmon

Hatchery-raised Spring Chinook salmon smolts are fin-clipped and tagged before release into Oregon streams, to begin their swim to the ocean and return back to the hatchery 2-4 years later. In early August, workers clip over 300,000 fingerlings at South Santiam Fish Hatchery. 50,000 of these fish are also coded-wire tagged. The 3-5 inch smolts weigh in at 35 fish per pound. A worker picks up each fingerling, clips the adipose fin and holds the fish's nose against the tagging machine. A needle inserts a 1 mm wire into the cartilage of the fish's snout. Wire spools will hold several thousand tags. The machine checks to see if the tag is inserted, and then sends the fingerling back to a rearing pond. The wire tag is coded to identify the hatchery where the fish was reared and the time of release.

The tags are read under a microscope after the tag is retrieved from returning or harvested adults. The fingerlings are drawn from their rearing ponds into the trailer, anesthetized just enough to be easily handled, and immersed into a clear water bath to keep the fish breathing. Workers then clip the adipose fin (the upper fin near the tail), tag the fish, and send them back to the ponds. Local workers are hired for this labor intensive summer program.

Tagging Machine
Tagging Closeup
Checking Tag Location
Workers clip over 300,000 fingerlings at South Santiam Fish Hatchery. A worker picks up each fingerling, clips the adipose fin and holds the fish's nose against the tagging machine. The wire tag is coded to identify the hatchery where the fish was reared and the time of release. Workers clip the adipose fin, tag the fish, and send them back to the ponds. A tagging supervisor samples the fingerlings to check that the tag is in the proper position.

Recycling hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead

Returning salmon and steelhead swim up the Columbia River past Astoria, Oregon, 60 miles to Portland. Turning south into the Willamette River where they brave the gauntlet of anglers in the Portland area after crossing Willamette Falls.

The fish swim 100 miles upstream finding the South Santiam River and the fish ladder at Foster Dam. After climbing the ladder, the fish are captured in the fish trap. They've returned after two or three years, swimming the Pacific to and from who knows where.

Returning adults are lifted from the trap into the anesthetic tank. Carbon dioxide is used to partially anesthetize the fish for easy handling. Fish are tagged, counted and passed into the loading bell for a lift to the top of the dam. They are then transferred into a waiting ODFW tank truck.

Counting fish
Lifting fish to top of dam
Loading Truck
Reccycling Fish
Fish are tagged, counted and passed into the loading bell for a lift to the top of the dam. The fish are lifted up from below in a bell shaped tank. They are then transferred into a waiting ODFW tank truck. Recycling steelhead at Pleasant Valley boat ramp while eager fisherman watch.

About Us | Fishing | Hunting | Wildlife Viewing | License / Regs | Conservation | Living with Wildlife | ODFW Outdoors

ODFW Home | Driving Directions | Employee Directory | Social Media | | File Formats | Employee Webmail | ODFW License Agents

4034 Fairview Industrial Drive SE   ::   Salem, OR 97302   ::    Main Phone (503) 947-6000 or (800) 720-ODFW [6339]

Do you have a question or comment for ODFW? Contact ODFW's Public Service Representative at:
Share your opinion or comments on a Fish and Wildlife Commission issue at

   © ODFW. All rights reserved. This page was last updated: 03/28/2014 4:15 PM