Keeping a Close Eye on Nisqually Winter Chum

NISQUALLY – In recent years, the Nisqually Tribe has restricted fishing near the mouth of Muck Creek, an important chum spawning tributary to the Nisqually River.

“A third of the chum spawning in the watershed come back to Muck Creek,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe. “But the creek only flows after there has been enough rain. By pushing the fishery away from the creek’s mouth, we can be sure enough chum get in there.”

Because chum leave freshwater soon after they hatch from the gravel in the spring, they’re able to leave Muck Creek before it dries up again in the summer.

Managing a fishery on one of the few all-wild runs of salmon in Puget Sound takes great care. The Nisqually Tribe keeps a close eye on both their commercial chum harvest and fish on the spawning ground.

“Chum is the most important fish, culturally and economically, to us,” said Georgiana Kautz, tribal natural resources manager. “We want to make sure enough salmon make it up the river to spawn so there will be fish in the future.”

In addition to closely monitoring tribal harvest, spawning surveys are conducted by the tribe on area creeks to determine how many fish have returned to reproduce.

“Practically every other salmon runs that support harvest in Puget Sound are largely hatchery supported,” Troutt said “The Nisqually chum run is unique in the Puget Sound in that it is an entirely wild run of salmon that can support harvest.”

Also, because the entire Nisqually chum run is wild, it is critical that the fish have quality spawning habitat when they return. “The tribe has been working for decades to ensure that there is enough good quality habitat to support the chum,” Troutt said. The tribe has worked with Fort Lewis and the Roy community to restore several miles of chum habitat along Muck Creek.

“Responsibly managed fisheries are important, but salmon need quality habitat to come back to as well,” said Troutt. “Lost and degraded habitat is the main reason for declining salmon runs. The most important thing we can do to guarantee strong salmon runs year after year is to continue protecting and restoring habitat.”


For more information, contact: David Troutt, Nisqually Tribe, natural resources director, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, information officer, (360) 582-4304.