A bull trout is tagged by Puyallup tribal staff at an adult trap on the White River.

A bull trout is tagged by Puyallup tribal staff at an adult trap on the White River.

The largest bull trout ever recorded on the White River was found by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians at an adult fish trap in June. The 12-pound fish was three times the size of the average bull trout.

“The most interesting thing about that bull trout is that we’ve seen it three times already in six years coming through the trap,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the tribe.

Tribal scientists tag and count every bull trout at the trap, so they have a good picture of the entire migratory portion of the White River bull trout population. The adult trap collects fish for trucking over an upriver dam.

The massive fish was part of a record tally of bull trout counted the White River, a major tributary to the Puyallup. So far this year the tribe has counted more than 400 bull trout at the Buckley Fish Trap, which is the largest count on record. “There is something definitely going on here, we’re seeing more and bigger bull trout each year,” Ladley said.

Ladley credits massive runs of pink salmon in recent years for boosting the bull trout population. Since 2003 the pink run has been consistently above 500,000, peaking at 1.4 million in 2009. Before then only about 20,000 pinks returned to the watershed each year.

After pink salmon return to spawn, they die. Their carcasses and eggs in turn support an entire ecosystem which ends up benefiting bull trout. The millions of pink fry that emerge the following spring also contribute greatly to the food web. “There is just way more food out there in recent years years because of the pinks which feed practically every sort of organism in the river,” Ladley said. “This shows that salmon restoration doesn’t just benefit one species, because all of the species in the river are interconnected.”

“It’s important to keep in mind that the entire migratory bull trout population in the White river only 10 years ago consisted of less than 35 adult fish. Today its likely well over 1,000 or so fish,” Ladley said. “This is still a tiny run. This isn’t the largest bull trout run ever, just the largest since we’ve been counting in the last three decades.” Bull trout, along with chinook and steelhead in the Puyallup River watershed, are listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species Act.

Counting bull trout is part of a yearly effort by the tribe to track fish populations in the Puyallup River watershed. In addition to counting all species at the White River trap, the tribe also counts out-migrating juveniles at another trap on the Puyallup and counts adults during spawning surveys. All of the fish data is compiled by the tribe in an annual report, the most recent edition of which can be found here: http://go.nwifc.org/13puyallup

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For more information, contact: Russ Ladley, resource protection manager, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 845-9225.