All 2.4 million fall chinook salmon fry at the Fallert Creek Hatchery on the lower Kalama River were lost when floodwaters inundated the facility last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.

Those fish died after a wave of water, mud and trees swept down on the hatchery during a heavy rainstorm Dec. 8, overtopping rearing ponds and hatchery raceways, said Kelly Cunningham, deputy assistant director for the WDFW Fish Program.

One pond was nearly full of mud, prompting hatchery workers to release half of the 500,000 spring chinook fingerlings at the facility into the Kalama River several months early, Cunningham said.

“We’re still in the process of assessing our losses and cleaning up mud and debris,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to develop a complete damage estimate.” Cunningham said a hatchery worker discovered the problem when he heard a loud crash as he was preparing dinner. Walking down the hill from his house, he saw that a culvert near the hatchery was plugged with debris and water was flowing straight into the facility.

Cunningham noted that the Kalama Falls Hatchery further upstream was not affected by the flood and is currently raising 4.9 million fall chinook – known as tules – for release in June.

Even so, the 2.4 million fry lost at Fallert Creek represented approximately 15 percent of the total fall chinook production by Washington hatcheries below Bonneville Dam.

“Those fish will be missed, particularly in the ocean fishery,” Cunningham said. “Tules really drive the recreational fishery off the coast.”