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.”
SAN FRANCISCO –– A confederacy of wild-fish advocates has asked a federal appeals court to stop the release by federal agencies of hatchery steelhead into the Elwha River, saying they could damage wild populations.
The appeal was filed after the advocacy groups failed to stop a release of hatchery salmon last week.
Lower Elwha Klallam tribal hatchery managers released 77,000 coho smolt into the river, beginning the process just before a judge ruled that federal agencies and conservation groups should discuss how many smolt should be released.
Last Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle rejected seven of the advocacy group’s eight motions to stop a hatchery plan that had been developed by several federal agencies to help Elwha River fish runs recover after the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.
Settle did rule that federal agencies must review their plans, saying they had not adequately studied the effects of large-scale release of hatchery-reared salmon on wild-fish populations.
Settle ordered the two sides to confer to find a compromise between the government’s plan to release 175,000 hatchery steelhead and 425,000 hatchery coho and the conservation groups’ proposed release of 50,000 of each species before the spring fish runs begin, and to establish a plan for the fall runs.
According to emails filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday and Friday of last week, attorneys for the conservation groups were informed of the hatchery coho release when they attempted to set up a meeting to discuss release numbers.
Court filings showed that tribal fisheries managers began releasing coho smolt March 24 and finished March 27.
Since then, conservation groups Wild Fish Conservancy, Conservation Angler, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Steelhead Coalition have asked the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals to issue an emergency injunction to stop the planting of steelhead, a large seagoing trout, from a $16.5 million hatchery built to stock the river.
Settle rejected such an injunction March 12.
“Hatchery fish, even those from wild parents, are far less successful surviving and reproducing over time than wild fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy.
“Left to their own devices, wild fish are already making it through the sediment plume and reaching spawning grounds.”
The release of the coho was “unfortunate,” Beardslee said, adding that the groups now are focused on the steelhead appeal.
Attorneys for several federal agencies and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe told the court in responses filed Monday that wild species of Elwha River fish could die off without the introduction of hatchery fish.
“Numerous reviews and a broad consensus of scientists have found that hatcheries are necessary during dam removal to prevent the wild Elwha salmon and steelhead populations from being extinguished by sediment as the dams come down,” said Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast fisheries program.
The groups’ original lawsuit, filed in February 2012, named the federal National Park Service, Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, NOAA’s Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying they should stop planting fish reared in the hatchery.
The groups’ claim against the tribe was dismissed in February 2013.
As part of the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history, federal and tribal agencies developed a plan to restore the fish runs and built a $16.4 million hatchery west of Port Angeles.
The Elwha River once produced 400,000 spawning fish, a number that declined to fewer than 3,000 after the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were built without fish passage structures in the early 20th century.
In a declaration to U.S. District Court filed Friday, Larry Ward, manager of the tribe’s hatchery, said the coho released in March were “of optimal size and coloration for release” last week. He added that conditions of the river were favorable.
Lower Elwha Klallam attorney Steve Suagee said the goal of the hatchery is to provide a “gene bank” for the wild species.
“The fish that are being produced in the hatchery are all native genetically to the Elwha,” Suagee said. “If we don’t release the smolts and the wild fish are killed by the sediment, then you’ve lost the wild fish.”
Suagee said Tuesday a decision on the injunction could come as soon as next week.
Suagee said the fish were released then to avoid putting them in the river while it was filled with sediment that had built up behind the dams and is now being carried down the river, what he called “the single biggest threat to the fish.”
“For the coho, everything came together last week,” Suagee said. “It was time to go.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation will celebrate the opening of a $50 million salmon hatchery Thursday on the Columbia River.
The Chief Joseph Hatchery will raise chinook salmon for subsistence tribal fishing and non-native sport fishing in the nearby towns of Bridgeport and Brewster. The hatchery is adjacent to Chief Joseph Dam, which is as far north as salmon can swim up the main stem Columbia.
Each year, the hatchery will release up to 2.9 million salmon smolts, which will swim 500 miles downstream to the ocean. A certain percentage will return as adult fish that can be harvested.
John Sirois, chairman of the Colville Tribes, hailed the hatchery as a testimony to the “meaningful work” that can occur when federal, tribal and state governments cooperate on river restoration. In 2008, federal agencies responsible for salmon in the Columbia Basin signed agreements with the tribes and the states, pledging greater cooperation as well as additional funding for salmon projects over 10 years. The completed hatchery is due in part to that accord.
The hatchery will help mitigate for the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, which was built without fish ladders. When the dam opened in 1941, it cut off salmon runs to the upper third of the Columbia Basin. Grand Coulee also flooded Kettle Falls, where one of the Northwest’s most prolific salmon fisheries had flourished for 10,000 years.
The day’s events are open to the public. The celebration begins with an 8 a.m. first salmon ceremony at the hatchery administration building and concludes at 3 p.m. after tours of the hatchery. The hatchery is located on State Park Golf Course Road east of State Route 17.