Salmon fishermen aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Nisqually Tribe’s Clear Creek Hatchery.

Every fall, some 2,000 people line up for free salmon at the hatchery on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The tribe needs only the eggs and milt from returning adults to raise the next generation of salmon. Some hatcheries sell the rest of the fish, but the Nisqually Tribe wants to make sure its neighbors have access to the bounty.

Sgt. Kenneth Hubbard was first in line for the salmon give away this year. When Hubbard came to the give away last year, he found a long line. “This year I got here a little before eight o’clock,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I got down here early.”

Soldiers and their families, in particular, benefit from the salmon giveaway. “I didn’t know that this was a resource that could be shared with so many people,” Hubbard said. “It is good for the soldiers, it is a great event.”

In addition to the community giveaway, the tribe also saves a portion for tribal elders.

“We are a community that has always depended on salmon,” said Farron McCloud, chairman of the Nisqually Tribe. “This food is vital to us and sharing it is part of our culture. It’s also a way to educate people about how important it is to us and what salmon need to thrive. It takes all of us for that to happen.”

The tribe releases 4 million chinook and 700,000 coho each year from its hatcheries. In addition to Clear Creek Hatchery, the tribe operates a hatchery on Kalama Creek and a rearing pond on McAllister Creek.

The tribe also freezes a few tons of carcasses for a nutrient supplementation program. The Nisqually Salmon Stewards (a tribally sponsored volunteer group) tosses hundreds of dead adult salmon into streams across the Nisqually watershed throughout the winter. As the carcasses decompose, bugs feed on them and in turn become food for juvenile salmon and other animals.

“Carcass tossing is a great way for people to get outdoors during a time of year when they normally wouldn’t, and it has a huge benefit for salmon,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe. “The entire ecosystem benefits when carcasses make it back into the system.”

Nisqually tribal natural resources technician Eddie Villegas tosses an adult chinook salmon at the tribe’s Clear Creek Hatchery. Photo: E. O’Connell