Rapid River Fish Hatchery
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Rapid River Fish Hatchery is located at the base of the Seven Devils Mountains near Riggins, Idaho. To get there from Riggins, head south on Idaho State Highway 95 for approximately seven miles, turn right onto Rapid River Road and drive about three miles to the end of the road. Situated along the Salmon River tributary for which it is named, Rapid River Fish Hatchery is the largest collecting, spawning and rearing facility of spring Chinook salmon in Idaho. Rapid River Fish Hatchery is owned and financed by Idaho Power Company, and operated and staffed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Visiting hours are 8 a.m. -- 4 p.m. Mountain Time, seven days a week. If you would like a tour of the facility, please stop by for a visit. If you have a large group of people, please provide advance notice by calling the hatchery at 208-628-3277.
Rapid River Fish Hatchery was built in 1964 by Idaho Power Company as an experimental facility for artificially propagating spring Chinook salmon, steelhead and fall Chinook salmon. Rapid River Fish Hatchery’s current role is to produce three million spring Chinook salmon smolts (juveniles) annually for release into the Salmon River and Snake River basins.
Water for the hatchery comes from Rapid River. The drainage is protected as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and is not impacted by modern development. Rapid River generally provides adequate water for rearing salmon, although the steep nature of the drainage makes it a highly variable river. Spring runoff and flash floods can be violent and carry tons of silt downstream. Water temperatures also vary considerably.
Fish rearing facilities at the hatchery include a building for egg incubation, 12 outdoor concrete raceways for early rearing and 6 rearing ponds for final rearing until fish are released as smolts. Holding facilities for adult salmon broodstock consist of one concrete holding pond and one earthen holding pond. These ponds can hold up to 4,000 adult salmon prior to spawning.
A fish trap is located on Rapid River approximately 1.5 miles downstream from the hatchery. It traps adult fish migrating upstream. Adult salmon are transported by a 1,000-gallon tank truck to the hatchery. The trap facility allows unimpeded migration of anadromous and resident fish when trapping operations are not in progress.
Spring Chinook Salmon
Rapid River Fish Hatchery produces around three million spring Chinook smolts annually as part of Idaho Power’s mitigation program. Fish spend nearly two years at the hatchery where they grow to a length of 4-6 inches before the majority of these fish are released directly into Rapid River to begin their 45- to 60-day, 600-mile journey to the ocean. In addition, Idaho Power releases some of these fish into the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam and some into the Little Salmon River. One to three years later, they return as adults to Idaho where they contribute significantly to sport and Native American tribal fisheries throughout the Columbia Basin.
Adult spring Chinook salmon arrive at the Rapid River trap from May to September. Fish are removed from the trap daily and transferred to holding ponds at the hatchery to await spawning. Spring Chinook salmon trapped in excess of broodstock needs are released back into fisheries or provided to humanitarian agencies for consumption. Additional spring Chinook salmon are trapped in the Snake River at Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon Trap and transported to Rapid River Fish Hatchery for use as broodstock.
Spawning begins around mid-August and is completed by the end of September. Each female produces 3,500 to 5,000 eggs which are placed into incubators after fertilization. Beginning in December and continuing through March, fry are moved from the incubators to outdoor raceways. In June, fish are moved into rearing ponds where they stay until their release as smolts the following March.
Since 1964, adult spring Chinook salmon returns to Rapid River Fish Hatchery have varied from less than 200 to more than 17,000. Migration and ocean conditions influence the subsequent return of adult salmon to Idaho. Rapid River Fish Hatchery has been rated one of the most successful hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest.