Hard Work Leads To Recovery of Summer Chum

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


Hood Canal/Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca summer chum is the only threatened salmon population in western Washington showing clear signs of recovery.

It’s thanks to a 20-year cooperative effort by state and tribal salmon co-managers, conservation groups, local governments and federal agencies that is balancing the key ingredients needed for recovery: harvest, hatcheries and habitat.

Summer chum were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999 along with Puget Sound chinook and Lake Ozette sockeye. Puget Sound steelhead joined the list in 2007.

The program’s success comes from a core principle that salmon recovery must address all factors affecting natural production. For far too long the federal government’s main response to protect ESA-listed salmon has been to cut harvest. Meanwhile, the primary threat to wild salmon and their recovery – ongoing loss and damage of their habitat – continues to be ignored.

Past overharvest and poor ocean conditions combined with degraded habitat to spark the steep decline of summer chum that began in Hood Canal streams in the late ’70s. By the early 1990s, fewer than a thousand summer chum were returning from a population that once numbered 70,000 or more.

The tribal and state co-managers responded with strong harvest management actions beginning in 1992. Fisheries impacting summer chum were reduced, relocated and delayed to protect the returning fish.

But it didn’t stop there. Working with federal agencies and conservation groups, tribal and state salmon co-managers began hatchery supplementation programs to boost populations of summer chum.

A portion of the wild run returning to the Big Quilcene River was moved to a federal fish hatchery and spawned, with the offspring released to rebuild the remaining run. Four years later, about 10,000 adult summer chum returned to the river.

Since then, additional hatchery supplementation efforts have led to summer chum becoming re-established in most of its historic range. To protect summer chum genetics, supplementation programs were limited to three generations, or 12 years. Some programs met their goals and were ended earlier.

Habitat protection and restoration was the third key to bringing back summer chum. Projects such as dike removals, protecting and restoring instream habitat, planting streamside trees and removing invasive plants have all contributed to the effort’s success. Nearly 700 acres of estuary and an equal amount of upland stream habitat have been improved to support the recovery effort.

More work is planned and ongoing in streams, estuaries, and the nearshore throughout the area

Balancing harvest, hatcheries and habitat is the key to salmon recovery. Equally as important is the need for monitoring and evaluation to apply lessons learned and improve effectiveness.

Cooperation is the third essential ingredient. Only by working together can we hope to meet the challenges of salmon recovery. If we are ever going to recover Puget Sound chinook and steelhead, we will need to use the same approach we are using to save Hood Canal summer chum.

Despite the best efforts of fisheries managers to restore summer chum, they remain vulnerable to climate change and ongoing development. Because they arrive in streams to spawn during the late summer months, they are especially threatened by low flows like those we are seeing during this year’s record-breaking drought, which is far from over.

Ongoing loss of habitat and a number of other factors still must be fully addressed before summer chum can be removed from the ESA list. There’s still a ways to go, but at least we are on the right path.

How will we know when we have recovered summer chum? When they are once again abundant enough to support sustainable harvest. To the tribes, that is the true measure of salmon recovery and the commitment to fulfill the promises of the treaties we signed with the U.S. government.

Tulalip Tribes Keep Track of Hatchery Salmon

Tulalip fisheries technicians spawn female chum salmon at the tribes’ Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin Hatchery.
Tulalip fisheries technicians spawn female chum salmon at the tribes’ Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin Hatchery.

By: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


Tribal and state co-managers continue to improve their ability to track hatchery salmon in the Snohomish watershed.

Both the Tulalip Tribes’ Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin Hatchery and the state’s Wallace River Hatchery recently installed new chillers to better mark hatchery chinook, coho and chum salmon.

“One hundred percent of all Tulalip chinook, coho and chum, and all regional chinook hatchery production, is now marked by location and brood year,” said Mike Crewson, Tulalip salmon enhancement scientist.

By altering the water temperature during incubation, hatchery managers can leave a distinct pattern on each fish’s otolith – a mineral structure often referred to as an ear bone, which accumulates daily rings. When fish return as adults, their otoliths are examined under a microscope to identify where and when they were released.

A portion of Snohomish regional hatchery fish also have coded-wire tags inserted into their snouts for identification in fisheries where otoliths are not examined. Also, adipose fins from most hatchery chinook and coho are clipped, which identifies them as hatchery fish but does not tell fishery managers where they are from.

While both of these methods can be expensive and hard on the fish, otolith marking is a cost-effective way to ensure that all the fish are marked and uniquely identifiable simply by changing the temperature of the water going to the eggs.

Tulalip also has hired additional staff and increased the number of returning fish that are sampled from the spawning grounds and in regional fisheries and hatcheries. Tribal technicians remove the heads of spawned-out fish in rivers and hatcheries, and from a representative number of the catch, and read the otoliths in the tribes’ stock assessment lab.

“We run all the otoliths for the entire area,” Crewson said. “It’s an important tool to assess straying and genetic risk and protect tribal treaty rights.”

Data show a significant reduction in hatchery strays since 2004 when 100 percent of the remaining hatchery chinook production was switched to the local native Skykomish River summer chinook broodstock.

“Our treaty fishing rights depend on these fish,” said Terry Williams, Tulalip’s fisheries and natural resources commissioner. “As long as natural production is limited by habitat loss and damage, we will need hatcheries.”

Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe brings in more efficient incubator system


Feb 21, 2014 NWIFC.com

With the influx of chum salmon last fall, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe was able to take twice as many eggs as usual, up to 1.2 million.

In anticipation of the large run, natural resources director Paul McCollum brought in an idea from his time in fisheries in Alaska – a NOPAD incubator, a tower of six 4′ x 4′ x 15” aluminum trays that can accommodate up to 1.5 million eggs.

Little Boston Hatchery technician Jeff Fulton works with a tray of eggs in the new NOPAD incubator system. More photos can be found by clicking on this photo.
Little Boston Hatchery technician Jeff Fulton works with a tray of eggs in the new NOPAD incubator system. More photos can be found by clicking on this photo.

“The small tray incubation system, or Heath tray system, we have been using for decades can only hold up to 600,000 eggs in total,” McCollum said. “The NOPAD has only been around since the 1970s and is commonly used in Alaska. One of the NOPAD trays can hold 45 small Heath trays worth of eggs.”

The tribe is maxed out with the old system, McCollum said, so the NOPAD trays will help increase its chum production while using minimal additional water or floor space.

“Most of our chum will go into our raceways, as we’ve always done, but now we’ll have more to put in the net pens, which, in the end, will result in bigger fish at release.

“The survival rate is a little more beneficial with the NOPAD,” he added. “But our main focus is on increasing production for better returns.”


For more information, contact Paul McCollum, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe natural resources director, at (360) 297-6237 or paulm@pgst.nsn.us; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission public information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.

Record Chum Salmon Run in Hood Canal

Skokomish tribal member Annette Smith hauls in chum salmon in southern Hood Canal.
Skokomish tribal member Annette Smith hauls in chum salmon in southern Hood Canal.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Fishermen in Hood Canal saw a record number of fall chum salmon return this year with an expected runsize of 1.4 million.

Tribal and state managers reported that tribal and non-tribal fishermen caught 1.186 million fall chum in Hood Canal when the expected return was only 324,000. Last year, fishermen caught nearly 582,000 from a final runsize of 674,000.

Skokomish Tribe fishermen in particular were inundated with the amount of fall chum, most of which are produced from WDFW’s Hoodsport and George Adams Hatcheries and the Skokomish Tribes’ Enetai hatchery.

“With the large amount of salmon returning this fall, our fishermen and buyers attempted to keep up with the non-treaty fleet consisting of purse seine and gillnet vessels,” said Joseph Pavel, the tribe’s natural resources director. “The market was flooded by the non-treaty purse seine fleet, landing more than 442,000 fall chum in the last week of October.”

Excess salmon were recycled at a composting facility on the reservation. A local yard and garden supplier has been brought in to manage the composting operation.