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Idaho Fish & Game
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Oxbow Fish Hatchery

Thursday, September 18, 2014 

The Oxbow Hatchery is unique among Idaho Fish and Game hatcheries because it can't be found on a map of Idaho. It is located in Eastern Oregon in Baker county and is adjacent to the confluence of Pine Creek and the Snake River (Oregon and Idaho border). The Idaho Power village known as Oxbow, Oregon, is located at the eastern most end of Oregon State Highway 86. It is approximately 70 highway miles east of Baker City, Oregon and approximately 150 highway miles northwest of Boise, Idaho.

Site Overview
The Oxbow Fish Hatchery consists of the following: A hatchery building which houses the office, shop, overnight sleeping quarters, and an incubation room. Four adult holding ponds including fish loading and off-loading facilities; an incubation water chilling unit; a spawning building; dormitory; Assistant Hatchery Manager's residence; two cement raceways; and an off-site fish trap. A more detailed description of the main facilities follows.

The hatchery building is a 28-ft x 60-ft, single-story metal structure partitioned into two main rooms. Half of the building consists of shop space, office space, and sleeping quarters, while the other half is for egg incubation. The incubation room has 448 Heath trays in 28 stacks, giving it the capacity to incubate 4 million eggs. Two 8-ft square sheds provide storage.

Adult holding and production facilities include four holding ponds, a fish trap, and a fish transport truck. The four holding ponds are actually two large ponds separated into four. The two larger divisions each measure 105 ft x 35 ft x 5 ft providing 36,750 cubic feet of holding area. The two smaller divisions measure 55 ft x 35 ft x 5 ft, providing 19,250 cubic feet of holding space. Two electric crowding racks provide the ability to move the fish into a center raceway, which is 4 feet 6 inches wide and 70 feet in length. It has a small crowd rack used to move the fish into the spawning building.

The fish trap is located at the base of Hells Canyon Dam. It consists of an attraction channel with approximately 150 feet of ladder, the holding area (trap), and a loading hopper. During processing, the fish move from the trap into the loading hopper and are hoisted up 80 feet to a transport truck.

The water chiller is enclosed by a 12-ft x 17-ft metal building to the west of the hatchery building. The chiller has the capacity to chill 120 gallons per minute (gpm) of water to 40° F.

The spawning building is located adjacent to the holding ponds. Part of the building is recessed into the ground to provide holding areas for the fish that are to be spawned. The remaining portion is at ground level where the females are spawned and the eggs fertilized and processed.

In 2000, two cement raceways were constructed to provide rearing space for fall chinook. They each measure 130 feet in length, 6 feet in width, and 4 feet in depth. A cement wall divides the first 30 feet of each raceway into two raceways. The head-box and outlet end of the raceways reduce the useable length of rearing space to approximately 118 feet. The capacity of the raceways was designed for 250,000 sub-yearling smolts at 70 fish per pound. Well water and river water are plumbed to the raceways in order to achieve required flows and to aid in controlling water temperature.

Water Supply - Adult Operation Water Source
Water for adult hatchery operations is pumped from the Snake River. A pumping platform adjacent to the hatchery holds two 100-horsepower production pumps, each producing 17 cubic feet per second. Only one pump operates at a time. Water from the production pumps passes over two aeration pump platforms, one on the south end of the adult ponds and one on the north end of the adult ponds. The water then enters the four adult holding ponds. Water temperatures range from a winter low of 34° F to a late summer high of 72° F.

Water Supply - Incubation Water Source
Two wells provide the water for egg incubation. One well serves as a primary water source, while the other is an emergency backup with a separate power source. The primary well water is a constant 52° F, while the backup is a constant 56° F. Well number 1 has a 3 hp pump and produces 120 gpm. Well #2 has a 10 hp. pump in order to provide additional water to the incubation room which requires 125 gpm. The additional amount of water (approx. 330 gal/min) would be available for the salmon raceway. Water used for incubation is chilled to approximately 43° F prior to entering an elevated surge tank in the hatchery building. Chilled water is distributed through two 4-inch PVC water lines to the 24 incubator stacks.

Oxbow Fish Hatchery receives hundreds of visitors each year. The staff here will gladly answer any questions you might have. Tours are available for individuals or groups. Visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Species Production
Oxbow Hatchery was constructed in 1962 by Idaho Power Company and is operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. All funding for this project is provided by Idaho Power as part of its operating license for Brownlee, Oxbow, and Hells Canyon dams on the Snake River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires Idaho Power to operate this facility to conserve fish runs that were impacted by the construction of the three dam complex. These dams were built without fish passage facilities with the idea that salmon and steelhead would be trapped and trucked around the dams. When this program failed, Idaho Power provided funds to build Oxbow Fish Hatchery.

The three primary objectives of Oxbow Fish Hatchery are:

  1. To trap and spawn enough returning adult steelhead to provide 1.3 million eyed eggs. Eggs are transported to Niagara Springs Hatchery and ultimately produce 400,000 pounds of steelhead trout smolts annually.
  2. To trap sufficient numbers of spring chinook adults to produce 1 million smolts annually.
  3. To produce and raise 1 million fall chinook smolts annually for release below Hells Canyon Dam.

Steelhead Trout
Snake River adult steelhead are trapped at Hells Canyon Dam and transported twenty-two miles to the hatchery. Trapping usually runs three day's a week starting in October through December. The trap is also operated in the spring in March through May insuring the collection of late migrating fish. This insures that fish are collected and spawned from all portions of the run. Approximately 600 adult steelhead are held as brood stock at the hatchery. Each female fish will produce approximately 5,000 eggs. The total females spawned have the potential of 1,500,000 eggs on station from Oxbow Stock. The excess adults trapped during the fall trapping season are divided between the State of Idaho, Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe. These fish are planted into the Boise River for Idaho, the Hells Canyon Reservoir for Oregon and the Little Salmon River for the Nez Perce Tribe. This provides more fishing opportunities to the sportsmen. Eggs from spawned females are incubated at the hatchery. When the eggs have reached eye-up, they are shocked and enumerated. Half of the eggs will be shipped to Niagara Springs Hatchery to hatch and reared to smolts. The remaining eyed eggs on station are held and incubated to hatch, and then are shipped as button-up fry to Niagara Springs Hatchery. During the spawning period, 1 million to 3 million steelhead eggs from the Pahsimeroi Hatchery are flown in for incubation. The staff at Oxbow Hatchery also enumerates and transports half of these eggs as eyed eggs and half as button-up fry to hatcheries in Idaho. Total steelhead egg production at Oxbow Fish Hatchery is between 2 million to 4.5 million a year.

Spring Chinook
Spring chinook adults are collected at the Hells Canyon trap in May through July. These fish are transported to the Oxbow Hatchery. Due to high water temperatures, the adults are transported weekly to the Rapid River Hatchery. Spawning starts in August. Oxbow personnel assist in all spawning day's at Rapid River Hatchery. As egg storage is filled at the Rapid River Hatchery eggs are shipped to the Oxbow Hatchery for incubation and enumeration. At eye-up, the eggs are shipped back to Rapid River Hatchery to hatch. In the last several years, the Oxbow Fish Hatchery has transported, sorted and enumerated between 1 million and 2 million spring chinook eggs per year.

Fall Chinook
The Oxbow Hatchery has started raising fall chinook for the last three years. Eyed eggs from Lions Ferry Hatchery in Washington are transported to the Oxbow Hatchery in November. These eggs are reared on 55º F well water in heath tray incubator stacks at the hatchery. At button-up the fall chinook are placed into two out-side raceways each are 118 x 6 x 3. Since the project started, fall production has increased every year. The hatchry looks at expanding the well water and rearing capacity to 1 million age zero smolts and the trapping of fall chinook brood stock at Hells Canyon Dam.

Steelhead Chinook Salmon

Learn more about these fish and others in our fish identification section.
P.O. Box 200
Oxbow, OR 97840
(541) 785-3459

location map

aerial shot of Oxbow hatchery
Last Updated: May 24, 2012 
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