Greg Strom

Fish Culturalist

Cle Elum Supplementation and Research Facility


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

Wenatchee WA - July 21, 2007

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Introductory Note

In 1857, the fishing business thought hatcheries on tributaries without dams would increase Columbia River salmon numbers. To avoid severe salmon reductions due to dams and resulting regulations, fishermen and canneries supported artificial spawning by hatcheries. But those fish were affected by water pollution, degraded habitat, warm water, natural predators, and human fishing.  Acclimated to artificial environments, hatchery fish were easy targets for predators in the wild.  

In the 1990’s fishery managers switched to an ecosystem approach, understood by Pacific Northwest tribes. This new focus supplemented indigenous salmon stocks and created more natural environments for smolts before their release. While these approaches are still controversial, today’s supplemental facilities are an improvement.

Two years after this interview, a Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) recommended reforms, greater analysis and more effective procedures. A history of Columbia River hatcheries is on the website of Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Greg Strom at the Cle Elum Hatchery

NWNL  Greg, thank you for coming out on a beautiful weekend to talk about your Fish Supplementation and Research Center. I’d like to discuss what you do here and how the wild salmon population is assisted by your salmon Supplementation Facility? When did this operation start and how do you procure stock for your fish?

GREG STROM  1997 was our first year to get our fish from the Columbia River system. As they come up the Yakima River, we trap them at Roza Dam. They are then trucked here at varying times. To represent the whole run, we take some at the beginning, middle and end.

Roza Dam at Cle Elum

NWNL  What happens when they get here?

GREG STROM  When they first get here, we hold them in our ponds. They start spawning around September. Roughly around 850,000 smolts are then released from our three acclimation sites:  Easton on the Yakima River, Jack Creek on the Teanaway River; and Clark Flat. 

NWNL  When you release these smolts from here,  do they return here as adults to spawn?

GREG STROM  Yes, hopefully. So far, salmon numbers are up in Jack Creek. A lot of the local people there enjoy sitting out to see the salmon come back. That is pretty neat.

NWNL  Were salmon in Jack Creek before the dams?

GREG STROM  Historically, I think the salmon used that creek. It’s been a good rainbow trout creek, and now salmon are returning there.

Smolts at Cle Elum

NWNL   Your Success is an exciting story. I see you also hold community Potluck Barbeques.

GREG STROM  Yes. We have an Open House Barbecue here towards the end of July. We provide a lot of salmon for people from Yakima and local people who come.

NWNL  Turning to a more technical question, can you explain the significance of the elastomer injections that identify origin data of a each particular fish?

GREG STROM  The elastimer is like a paint that is injected. We only see its color through a blue light.

NWNL   At Rocky Beach Dam fish-ladder, I learned I could identify the fish that come from hatcheries by seeing if their adipose fin had been removed. 

Salmon passing through Rocky Beach Dam’s fish passage.

GREG STROM  Yes. We also do that here in order to keep better data on the success of each hatch we release.

NWNL  The volunteer tour guide here, Dwayne, told me that tagging also assists fishermen when they pull in a salmon. In most cases, one is not allowed to keep a wild salmon; but most regulations say one can keep a hatchery fish, if the fin is cut off.  

GREG STROM  That’s correct. That is another reason for tagging.

NWNL  Realizing that dams supply irrigation and reduce flooding, how do you feel about all of these Columbus River dams stopping the free flow of your rivers and thus hindering the salmon passage?

GREG STROM  Today one can only “see” the original flow of the Columbia River by seeing pictures and photos. The contrast is pretty devastating.

NWNL  Yes, it’s a big change visually.  If you could choose, would you remove the dams?

GREG STROM  I’m not sure. I’ve worked on the Yakima River, and I worked on the Upper Klickitat River early on in my career. As far as a free-flowing river, the Upper Klickitat on the Yakima Reservation is the most beautiful river I’ve ever seen.

Mount Adams, which feeds Upper Klickitat River, a Lower Columbia River tributary

NWNL  Would you turn off your television and lights to have a free-running the Columbia?


NWNL  Well, having hydro-power is what it boils down to isn’t it! Greg, what is your background and how did you get into this?

GREG STROM I’d been working for the Yakima Fisheries since 1986. I started on the field-work side, doing tributary assessments for spawning surveys.  In 1999-2000, this job came open and I applied thinking it would just be feeding fish. But there’s a lot that goes on here besides just feeding fish.

We are involved in maintenance. We have water issues with freezing winters. Runoff can block our screens. So, we are constantly busy here -but we all love to feed the salmon.

Greg, behind camouflage protecting and shading the Cle Elum spawning bed

NWNL  It seems the water issues you face basically originate beyond these fenced facilities. You need enough water and you can’t have blocked access. Plus, the water has to be the right temperature. It can’t freeze.

GREG STROM  Fortunately, we also have access to well water. We couldn’t operate without well water.

NWNL  Is that groundwater supply sufficient and stable? Folks upstream in Wenatchee are concerned about their aquifer supply at the moment.  

GREG STROM  So far, yes. But as you said, we do have both freezing and sediment issues.

NWNL  Since, water temperatures are four degrees hotter than before. Temperature is of critical importance for salmon, how to you deal with warmer water temperatures?

GREG STROM  We have a lot of temperature issues. We have a hatchery chiller we can operate here for the eggs as needed. Then if we need to, we can kick in some colder well water.

NWNL  That’s fortunate. What else will you do against the “wild card” of climate change and the further increase of temperatures being predicted now by many scientists?

GREG STROM  I understand that as climate change raises temperatures, there will be more bacteria ingested by our fish. So, we  using more flow to battle that every year. There are three or four different things we can do. As temperatures get high, we clean out our raceways every week. We also periodically vacuum and brush the pond walls. The cleaner their environment, the better it will be for them.

Holding tanks at Cle Elum for salmon fry

NWNL  That’s great for your hatchery fish. But what happens to the wild salmon in these rivers?  They don’t have anybody to make the river flow faster, unless the big Columbia River dams release more water on the main stem of the Columbia? What will help the wild salmon in these creeks as temperatures increase?

GREG STROM  Our crew just recently got back from a fish health conference and we heard again that there are critical contaminant issues in major urban areas. We are lucky to be where we are – away from urban pollution. We don’t have contamination issues here in the water we use.

NWNL  You’re doing great job here for the salmon. What could help you do an even better the job?

GREG STROM  More pay. I think everybody’s salary on the fish side has been cut. I’m just told what we can spend and when we can spend it. But overall, every year is different here. We have different emergencies that come up, from domestic water and river water to the quality and quantity of the water.

NWNL You’ve said your emergencies and greatest concerns are water-related. 

GREG STROM  Yes. Plus, as the newness of this hatchery has worn off, we experience different breakdowns every year affecting maintenance and plumbing.

Murals in Yakima depict the connection of Yakima’s culture with local species.

NWNL  Who funds this Fish Supplementation and Research Center?

GREG STROM  As far as I know, Cle Elum Hatchery is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Yakima Nations.

NWNL  Greg, as I look around, this is a clean, well-maintained hatchery.  Everything sparkles – from smolts to your water tanks.  Thank you from all of us who care about salmon. And thank you for sharing your time with NWNL.   

Posted by NWNL on November 11 , 2019.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.