NISQUALLY – Good harvest management by tribal and state salmon co-managers has led to more chinook reaching the spawning grounds on the Nisqually River this year despite fewer returning chinook.
“Overall fewer chinook returned Puget Sound-wide, but because we managed our fisheries the right way, we were able to reach our escapement goal,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Tribe. Escapement is the number of salmon that are allowed to reach the spawning grounds.
Nisqually River chinook are part of a larger Puget Sound population of chinook that are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The number of chinook harvested dropped from around 20,000 in recent years to 13,000 this year. Returns to the Tribe’s hatcheries also dropped from a high of 15,000 to less than 5,000. However, at the same time the number of chinook reaching the spawning grounds increased from around 2,000 in recent years to more than 3,300.
To protect chinook, the Tribe has more than halved the number of fishing days in recent years. In addition, Tribal fishermen have been restricted to a smaller section of river.
Also benefiting chinook escapement was a new rule requiring non-tribal sport anglers on the Nisqually and nearby marine waters to release wild chinook, decreasing their impact to the stock. More than 90 percent of the chinook returning to the Nisqually this year were hatchery fish, identified by a clipped adipose fin.
“These kinds of fisheries, where there are a lot of hatchery fish and few wild fish, are effective in terminal areas like rivers,” Troutt said. “While Nisqually tribal fishermen have cut their fishing days in recent years to provide better future returns, cutting fisheries alone won’t matter if we don’t do anything about habitat.”
For over a decade, the Tribe has led a community-based salmon recovery effort in the watershed. “Our communities are rallying behind recovering salmon,” Troutt said. “Because of the cooperation we have here, we’ve made great strides in ensuring salmon have the habitat they need when they return to spawn. For example, over the last decade the Tribe has restored more than 140 acres of estuary habitat at the mouth of the Nisqually River.”
“The numbers of returning salmon are looking good, but we have a lot of work to do before we really recover Nisqually River chinook,” Troutt concluded.
For more information, contact: David Trout, natural resources director, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687, [email protected]. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181, ext. 392, [email protected]