NISQUALLY (January 19, 2005) – A decade ago, only 400 chinook salmon spawned in the Nisqually River. This year more than 2,600 chinook returned. “Nisqually River chinook are making a comeback because of sacrifices by tribal fisherman and a dedication by the Nisqually Tribe and it’s neighbors to protect and restore salmon habitat,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Tribe.

“Restoring and protecting habitat, along with restricting fisheries, are the reasons more chinook are returning to Nisqually River to spawn,” said Troutt. Nisqually River chinook are part of a larger Puget Sound population of chinook that were listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1999.

To protect chinook, the tribe more than halved the number of days that fisherman can catch chinook. Tribal fishermen were also restricted to a smaller section of river. “Even though the non-treaty fishery is open all week, Nisqually fishers have been cooperative about the halving their fishing days to provide better future returns,” said Troutt. “But, cutting fisheries alone would be ineffective if we did not do anything about salmon habitat.”

Acting as salmon recovery “lead entity,” the tribe has led a community-based salmon recovery effort in the watershed. “The watershed communities have rallied behind recovering chinook salmon,” said Troutt. “Because of their cooperation, we have made great strides in making sure salmon have the habitat they need when they return to spawn.”

Over the last four years the Nisqually Tribe has restored almost 40 acres of estuary habitat at the mouth of the Nisqually River and has plans to restore 100 more acres this summer.

Ensuring chinook salmon reach the spawning grounds is an important part of an effort by the tribe and state co-managers to develop a stock specifically adapted to the Nisqually River from the descendents of hatchery fish. Creating the “locally adapted stock” is important because wild chinook that are native to the Nisqually River were wiped out earlier this century by the consequences of dams and historic non-Indian over-harvest, said Troutt.

“For several months out of the year, it wouldn’t be uncommon for entire sections Nisqually River to run dry,” said Troutt. “The dams also regularly released a deluge of water in the winter after the wild chinook had spawned, scouring out their eggs.”

To build a sustainable, naturally spawning chinook stock the tribe is studying whether naturally spawning and hatchery fish can be trapped and sorted by their adipose fin, allowing only naturally spawned fish to proceed o the spawning grounds. The adipose fin on hatchery raised chinook is clipped before they are released. “We have been producing chinook at our hatcheries for years,” said Troutt. “By allowing only naturally born chinook to spawn in the wild, we can help them become adapted to the Nisqually River.”

“From limiting fisheries to beginning the effort to restore important habitat, the Nisqually Tribe is doing its part to recover Nisqually chinook,” said Troutt. “The numbers of returning salmon are looking good, but we have a lot of work to do before we really recover Nisqually River chinook.”

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For more information, contact: David Trout, natural resources director, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687, dtroutt@nwifc.org. Jeanette Dorner, salmon recovery program manager, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687, jdorner@nwifc.org. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181, ext. 392, eoconnell@nwifc.org