Washington Rivers Are Extra Fishy This Fall - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Washington Rivers Are Extra Fishy This Fall

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BURBANK, Wash.- It is a season for the history books according to the U.S. Army Corps workers we spoke with Monday. The Fall Chinook Salmon are returning to the Columbia in numbers that are baffling the experts who monitor these fish as they pass through Washington dams, breaking records dating back to the 1930's.  In short, this fall the rivers will be extra fishy.

"Almost a million fish over in Bonneville and about 70,000 here at Ice Harbor," said Mark Plummer, a fisheries project biologist for the Army Corps.

When the U.S. Army Corps built their dams, the fish that migrated from the rivers to the ocean hit roadblocks. For decades, the Army Corps has taken on an initiative to come up with ways for the fish to travel around the dams.

"Salmon are all about flow, so when they sense this flow coming up the Snake River they enter into the fish ladder and continue up with the flow," explained Plummer.

The fish ladder is a man-made canal that the salmon climb to get around the dam. As the fish pass through the ladder they're monitored, sometimes implanted with tracking chips and most importantly, counted.

A few years ago the corps tried to switch to computers to track their fish, but they found that their resident fish counting experts were far better. That means, there's actually someone on duty who hand counts the various species of fish as they pass by.

"It's gone very well in recent years and the record runs we're seeing for the Fall Chinook appear to be due at least in part to the corps efforts," said Bruce Henrickson, who works in public affairs at the Army Corps.

In addition to the work done by the corps to help promote healthy fish populations, the more than doubling of Fall Chinook numbers is in part thanks to Mother Nature.

"The ocean conditions and the food out there seems to be just right, so we're getting a big number of fish return," said Plummer.

The U.S. Army Corps is constantly trying to come up with more advanced ways of helping the fish get through their dams. Currently they are working on fish friendly blades in their hydropower turbines that will not injure fish if they happen to enter the dam.