Nisqually Tribe Tracks Steelhead Journey

NISQUALLY (June 16, 2006) – Steelhead have been slowly disappearing from the Nisqually River for at least the last decade and the Nisqually Indian Tribe wants to know why. “There is plenty of good habitat for steelhead in the Nisqually watershed, so we think they’re running into problems in saltwater,” said David Troutt, natural resources manager for the Nisqually Tribe. “But, we don’t know that for sure.”

Tribal and state co-managers would like to see just under 2,000 steelhead return to spawn every year to the Nisqually, but since 1993, fewer than 1,000 have come back. Decades ago, the Nisqually River had the strongest run of steelhead in Puget Sound; over 6,000 would return every year. Nisqually River steelhead are part of a stock that is currently being considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Tribal researchers are tagging around 50 juvenile steelhead with acoustic transmitters as they head out to sea. The transmitters will allow the researchers to track the steelhead after they’ve left the river.The tribe’s effort is part of the joint U.S. and Canadian Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project. An array of acouhstic receivers located throughout Puget Sound will track the fish as they begin their ocean migration. When a steelhead carrying an acoustic transmitter passes between a pair of receivers, its individual frequency is recorded and tracked for several hundred yards.

“This project will narrow down for us where the steelhead could be running into trouble,” said Troutt.

Tribal biologists are collecting steelhead using fishing poles and single barbless hooks, a more effective technique than alternatives such as beach seining or electro-shocking. “This way we can be pretty selective about what fish we take out of the water, since we’re taking them out one at a time,” said Sayre Hodgson, salmon recovery biologist for the tribe. “We can be sure we’re only catching steelhead, as opposed to all of the other fish that are in the river right now.”

“This project will show us where steelhead go when they leave the Nisqually River,” said Troutt. “With better information, we’ll have a better idea how to recover these fish.”


For more information, contact: David Troutt, natural resources director, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, [email protected].