SEQUIM (May 22, 2007) – Strong tribal and state co-management efforts have led to a ten-fold increase of chinook in the Dungeness River in just the past decade.
Since 1997, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have worked together to boost the number of chinook returning to the river annually from fewer than 100 to more than 1,500 last year. Dungeness River chinook are one of the Puget Sound chinook populations listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“I don’t know of a better working relationship between a tribe and a state agency,” said Scott Chitwood, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s natural resources director. “By working well together, we’ve been able to make real progress toward recovering Dungeness chinook.”
The project began in the early 1990s with the collection of adult wild chinook eggs in the Dungeness River. These eggs were incubated at WDFW’s Hurd Creek Hatchery in Sequim. Instead of being released from the hatchery to migrate out to sea, the young fish produced were raised to adulthood at the hatchery, said Chitwood. These “captive brood” stock fish reached maturity and were spawned to produce offspring that were released into the Dungeness River and Gray Wolf River each year starting in 1997.
Today, steadily increasing numbers of adult chinook return to spawn naturally in the Dungeness River and continue to provide eggs to supplement the river’s natural wild chinook production, Chitwood said.
The work is far from over, however. As more fish return, the tribe and WDFW have begun to closely evaluate the success of the natural spawning activity. Part of that process includes inserting coded wire tags in the nose of each juvenile chinook before it is released from the hatchery. The tags can be detected electronically when the fish return to the river from the sea as adults. This helps distinguish the hatchery-origin fish from the wild fish which have no tag.
“If we can measure an increase in the number of chinook produced in the wild, our chances of recovering the population improve dramatically,” Chitwood said. “We really need to raise the productivity of chinook habitat in the Dungeness River in order to succeed.”
“This study is helping the tribe and the state take a closer look at the entire Dungeness River watershed,” said Dan Witczak, the manager of WDFW’s Hurd Creek Hatchery. “We’ve been able to accurately and scientifically implement this program so some day, this river may be able sustain a wild chinook run on its own.”
Fish produced for the program are raised at the Hurd Creek and Dungeness River hatcheries. The tribe built a chinook rearing and release pond on the Gray Wolf River and pays for the coded-wire tagging each year.
For more information, contact: Scott Chitwood, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s natural resources director at (360) 681-4616 or [email protected]; or Dan Witczak, WDFW Hurd Creek Hatchery manager, at (360) 683-1738 or [email protected]; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].