PUYALLUP (April 28, 2008) – Fewer juvenile wild chinook migrated from the Puyallup River in 2007, likely because winter floods in the winter of 2006 washed away chinook redds – or nests – before the fish had a chance to emerge from the gravel. But, because of good weather this past winter, a record number of pink salmon are leaving the watershed.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians counts outgoing salmon with a smolt trap in the lower Puyallup River, enabling them to estimate the productivity of the entire watershed. A smolt trap is a safe and effective way to capture and count juvenile salmon. Smolt refers to the term “smoltification,” a physiological process juvenile salmon undergo that allows them to migrate from fresh to salt water.

According to recently analyzed data, fewer than 10,000 wild chinook migrated from the Puyallup watershed last year, down from a peak of 60,000 fish in 2005. On the other hand, over 100,000 pink salmon have left the system so far this year.

“There are only a few places where chinook can spawn throughout the Puyallup watershed, so one flood can do terrible damage to an entire run,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe. “But, if we get lucky and have good weather, salmon production can go way up.”

Historically, floods were not as damaging to juvenile salmon. “Development and urbanization have changed the watershed so much with diking and paving that even minor flooding can do incredible damage to young fish,” Ladley said.

South Prairie Creek near Orting and the upper Puyallup River watershed near Mt. Rainier are the two remaining strongholds for chinook spawning in the watershed. “There are only a few places where development hasn’t ruined good spawning habitat,” Ladley said.

Low numbers of juvenile chinook migrating out to the ocean this year will mean even fewer adult chinook returning three and four years from now, leading to restricted fisheries. “Chinook fisheries on the Puyallup, even fisheries on abundant hatchery stocks, are driven by the number of wild chinook returning in a particular year,” Ladley said. Puyallup River chinook are part of the Puget Sound stock listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“To sustain strong chinook runs from year to year, the fish need habitat to support them,” Ladley said. “In the past few years the tribe has worked with partners throughout the watershed to restore habitat for juvenile salmon, but those projects have only covered a fraction of the entire watershed.”


For more information, contact:
Russ Ladley, resource protection manager, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 845-9225. Chris Phinney, harvest management biologist, Puyallup Tribe, (253) 845-9225. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, eoconnell@nwifc.org.

The Puyallup Tribe’s smolt trap report is available here.