EATONVILLE (December 4, 2006) – During the last seven winters over 60 tons of chinook salmon carcasses – plus almost 30,000 pounds this year – have been tossed in streams around the Nisqually River watershed through the Nisqually Tribe’s carcass distribution program.
The tribe takes carcasses from their two hatcheries, and with help from volunteers, distributes them throughout the watershed, adding much needed marine nutrients to the eco-system. Salmon carcasses bring nutrients back from the ocean that are food for over 147 species of wildlife.
“Every year the number of fish we could store increased because we learned more about how to pack salmon into a big freezer,” said Florian Leischner, salmon restoration biologist for the tribe.
However, there is ultimately a limit to space. “For the first time since we started the program, we actually had a drop in the pounds last year,” said Don Perry, the tribe’s volunteer coordinator. “There are only so many fish you can cram in there.”
The carcass tossing program has a real impact on bringing back salmon in larger numbers to the Nisqually River watershed. “Juvenile salmon of all species depend on nutrients from carcasses,” said Leischner. Small organisms, such as stream insects, feed on the carcasses, which in turn are food for juvenile salmon. Over the last hundred years there has been a dramatic decline in numbers of returning salmon and available carcasses and food in the system. “While we can’t totally re-create historic conditions, we are doing what we can.”
The carcass distribution program also ties into the tribe’s ongoing salmon habitat restoration efforts throughout the watershed. In recent years the tribe and its partners have completed several projects that provide habitat for juvenile fish. “By putting carcasses near those projects we will help ensure the fish rearing in them will have food,” said Leischner.
The program began when only 3,900 pounds of salmon were tossed in 1999. “We may have hit a plateau in terms of how many fish we can pack into a freezer, but we’re seeing more and more people come out to carcass tossing events,” said Perry.
In addition to two public carcass tossing events each winter, the tribe works with the Nisqually River Education Project to organize dozens of outings for school groups. “You can only imagine how much fun throwing a big dead frozen salmon around is for students,” said Perry. “Carcass tossing is a way for salmon recovery to be real for students and for people who wouldn’t otherwise get excited about fish.”
The Nisqually Stream Stewards, a volunteer salmon recovery program sponsored by the tribe, attracts many new volunteers through the carcass tossing program. “People who don’t normally look for salmon recovery volunteer activities, such as tree plantings or salmon migration watching, will come out for carcass tossing,” said Perry. “Throwing a frozen chinook carcass into the Nisqually River is a real way that people can connect with salmon recovery in their own back yard.”
For more information, contact: Jeanette Dorner, salmon recovery program manager, Nisqually Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Don Perry, volunteer coordinator, Nisqually Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, (360)528-4304.