A vandal or vandals illicitly released 100,000 young fall Chinook from a netpen at Mayfield Dam this past Saturday night, but fortunately tens of thousands of the hatchery smolts have already made their way to a fish collector for passage down the Cowlitz River.
Many of the rest are expected to show up there in the coming days, according to a state hatchery staffer, so losses should only be minimal.
Meanwhile, WDFW and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the incident that occurred sometime Saturday evening or night.
According to WDFW’s Sam Gibbons, someone pulled and cut straps off one pen’s netting, allowing the salmon to swim freely into Mayfield Lake.
Only a few fish were still in the pen when a hatchery worker arrived on Sunday to feed them, he says.
According to Tacoma Power, which operates Mayfield Dam, around 30,000 have gone through its fish-collection facility so far.
The Chinook had otherwise been just about ready to be trucked down past the dam and released into the river.
Gibbons said no other damage occurred to the netpens and in recent years there haven’t been any similar activities, so it’s a puzzler why it happened.
The 20 pens at the lake rear 2 million fall Chinook annually. With a special appropriation from the state legislature in 2013, they became operational in 2014.
According to local radio, anyone with information on the case is being asked to call Crimestoppers at (800) 748-9286.