Outdoor Storytellers- Dworshak Hatchery

OROFINO, ID. — The Dworshak National Fish Hatchery in Idaho goes through several steps to ensure the Clearwater River is fully stocked with Steelhead.

The stocking process begins with Steelhead that area already in the river. These fish swim up a fish ladder near the Orofino hatchery, and are placed into holding pens. The pens can hold hundreds of fish and once they are full workers at the hatchery look through the fish to find brood stock or mature adult Steelhead.

Female Steelheads are then milked for their eggs and the milt, or fish sperm, is gathered from the males.

Once the hatchery gathers all the necessary eggs and milt, the two are put together and left in an incubation room until they become eyed-eggs. They are called eyed-eggs because the eyes are the first physical feature to develop on a Steelhead.

The eyed-eggs are then moved to a nursery until they become sac-fry, or a baby fish. At this stage, the yoke sac from the egg is still attached to the baby fish and the baby is living off of the nutrients from the yoke.

After the nutrients have been depleted, the baby will hatch and move from a sac-fry to a button-fry, and then into a smolt or juvenile Steelhead. The smolts are then moved into a outdoor pen called a race-way or burrows ponds. They will stay here until they reach six to eight inches in length, which usually takes about a year to achieve.

Once at the desired size, the fish are then pushed out through a tube into the Clearwater River.

More than two and a half million smolts are released from the Dworshak Hatchery every year, and only about one-percent of these fish survive. However those that survive will eventually return to the hatchery and start the process all over again.