PUYALLUP (April 4, 2005) – Using a smolt trap – a safe and effective device for catching and counting young fish – the Puyallup Tribe of Indians is assessing the success of recent habitat improvement on the Puyallup River.

Last summer the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, in cooperation with the tribe, reconnected off-channel habitat with the mainstem Puyallup River. “That project was designed to give juvenile salmon additional habitat,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe. “The smolt trap captures out migrating juvenile salmon. Increased numbers of smolts can tell us if our habitat improvements are working.”

In the past century, most of the habitat that salmon used in the Puyallup River watershed has been lost to development. “The major factor leading to the decline of salmon is loss and degradation of habitat,” said Ladley. “This is especially true in regards to loss of off-channel habitat that juvenile salmon use as refuge soon after they are born.”

Recovering weak salmon populations is a primary focus of the Puyallup Tribe. Chinook salmon in the Puyallup and White Rivers are part of the Puget Sound population listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. “The more information we have on salmon populations, the better job we can do to focus our efforts on recovering weak runs,” said Ladley.

The trap, which the tribe has operated for five years, is checked twice a day by tribal staff. After counting and measuring each young salmon, they are released back into the river. Smolt comes from the word “smoltification;” the term to describe the physiological transformation that young salmon undergo in fresh water, just before migrating downstream and entering salt water.

In addition to assessing salmon recovery efforts across the watershed, the trap also helps the tribe plan salmon fishing seasons with their state co-managers. “The data from the trap gives us an early picture of what returns will be like in future years,” said Chris Phinney, harvest biologist for the Puyallup Tribe.

In addition to the smolt trap, the tribe also conducts salmon spawning surveys. Tribal staff scout practically every salmon stream in the watershed, looking for returning adult salmon of every species. In addition to counting salmon and redds (salmon nests), spawning surveyors also collect genetic material, such as scale samples, which helps determine the age of a returning salmon. “The only way to know exactly how many fish are coming back to any particular stream is to go out there and look for them,” said Ladley.

“We are always looking for clues in the river on how salmon are doing,” he said. “The more information we collect, the better we can protect and restore salmon in the Puyallup watershed.”

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For more information, contact: Russ Ladley, resource protection manager, Puyallup Tribe, (253) 845-9225. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, eoconnell@nwifc.org.