JOHN DAY - Biologists found 1,500 spring chinook spawning nests in the index survey areas of John Day Basin this fall, which is the highest number since surveys began in 1959.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has surveyed the same stream reaches (index survey sections) in the John Day River and its tributaries for 43 years to monitor long-term trends in wild fish populations. Biologists count the number of redds in each reach and examine salmon carcasses to determine their size, age and origin.

ODFW's John Day Chinook Monitoring Project, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, conducts additional surveys to account for spawning outside of the traditional survey areas. This year, an additional 455 redds were observed in these areas making the total 1,955 redds counted basinwide. This is the highest number of redds ever counted in the John Day Basin. The vast majority of spawners were wild fish. Only 1 percent of all carcasses examined by surveyors were determined to be stray hatchery fish.

Favorable ocean conditions have led to recent strong returns. The increasing population over the past four decades also can be attributed to enhanced fish survival throughout the John Day Basin, ODFW reported.

ODFW biologists agree that fish passage and habitat in the John Day - particularly in the last 15 years - have definitely improved as a result of cooperative projects by private landowners, public agencies, tribes and other interest groups. The agency contends that changes in land management and irrigation practices, the removal of migration barriers, installation of fish screens, and floodplain restoration projects all have contributed to improved chinook returns.

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