Hoh Tribe Taking Stock Of Coho And Their Habitat

HOH RIVER (June 22, 2005)– Mature cedar, spruce, hemlock and cottonwood trees tower over the quiet waters of an old channel of the Hoh River. Lush green salmon berry bushes bend under the weight their ripe fruit, a favorite early spring treat of black bears.

With habitat such as this, it’s not a coincidence that this old channel, which still outflows to the Hoh River, is producing some the highest numbers of young fish that the Hoh Tribe is encountering as part of an effort to tag young coho.

“The mature forest here plus the prime rearing habitat that a channel abandoned by the river provides has a lot to do with the productivity of this area,” said Joe Gilbertson, salmon biologist for the Hoh Tribe.

The tribe hasn’t trapped and tagged young coho since the late 1980s. Trapping this year is part of a of a multi-year effort to assess the most productive habitats for coho salmon as well as track how young coho distribute in those habitats throughout the year. Finally, adult coho movement and survival will be noted from the returns of coded wire tags caught in commercial and recreational harvest from British Columbia and Washington waters.

Hoh River coho range as far north as Alaska as they grow, and are frequently harvested in British Columbia as they begin their return to the Hoh River basin.

“In the recent past, Hoh River coho were one of the stocks that the U.S. and Canada planned their harvests around to minimize impacts on those fish,” said Jim Jorgensen, fisheries biologist for the Hoh Tribe. “The stock is relatively healthy now, but we’ve had human-caused impacts on habitat as well as loss of habitat outside Olympic National Park.

The productive ocean conditions of the past few years are on the wane and may reverse, leading to weak natural coho runs like we had in 1993, 1994 and 1997,” said Jorgensen. “The information we’re gathering now will give us an accurate picture of the health of both the coho stock and habitat and allow us to better predict numbers of returning fish.”

The Hoh Tribe relies on healthy runs of salmon to provide food and income to the remote reservation where unemployment exceeds 60 percent. Tribal fishermen can catch coho from September through the first week of December in good years. “Having healthy runs of fish is important to the tribe,” said Jorgensen. “If all the runs are healthy in a given year,
April is the only month a commercial fishery wouldn’t be expected.”

Results of the study are being used by the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC), the implementing arm of a treaty between the United States and Canada to facilitate fisheries planning and allocations between the two nations. A PSC grant is funding the study slated to continue through 2009.


For more information, contact: Jim Jorgensen, fisheries biologist, Hoh Tribe, (360) 374-6548; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 438-1181, [email protected].