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Dead fish in Kalama likely part of nutrient enhancement program

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Oct. 6—KALAMA — Several hundred gutted salmon found near Gobar Creek and Kalama River roads in Kalama likely are not there due to foul play, but as part of a stream nutrient enhancement program.

A person called the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office on the evening of Sept. 28, reporting a suspicious circumstance: 200 to 300 salmon that seemed freshly killed, gutted with the eggs removed, on Weyerhaeuser land.

But the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said that while regional WDFW police had not heard of the incident, it sounded like a nutrient enhancement program release.

Dead hatchery fish, after spawning, have for several decades been put back into rivers and streams to ensure the marine nutrients in their bodies are returned to the ecosystem.

In a natural life cycle, salmon die in the rivers and their bodies provide food for aquatic insects and other stream life that in turn are consumed by juvenile salmon, steelhead and other fish. They also act as a nutrient pump, bringing ocean nutrients into freshwater habitat.

When wild runs declined and some streams lost their salmon, scientists worked to understand why those streams became nutrient deficient, according to a 2019 Columbian story on a nonprofit organization that puts dead fish back in rivers.

The key was letting salmon rot, so that is what ecosystems managers now are doing. Some hatchery fish not distributed to people to eat are given to a handful of nonprofits that take the fish and drop them off at various river locations.

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