Puyallup Tribe Helps Spring Chinook Program Continue

PT White River springers (1) tinyThe Puyallup Tribe of Indians is making sure juvenile spring chinook will still find their way to the upper White River each year.

The tribe is raising 250,000 spring chinook at their hatchery so they can stock acclimation ponds in the upper White. Legislative budget cuts forced the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to cease their White River spring chinook program.

“We used to get these fish from the state, but now the Muckleshoot Tribe is allowing us to have some of their excess spring chinook,” said Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe. The Muckleshoot Tribe also raises White River springers at one of their hatchery.

Before picking up the state’s effort completely this year, the Puyallup Tribe has chipped in with the cost of clipping the spring chinook.

The state’s White River spring chinook program had been one of the oldest salmon recovery projects in the state. The effort began almost 40 years ago when the state began capturing fish for broodstock from the weak early run. “Probably the only reason we have White River springers to protect is because of the state’s early action,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the tribe.

In 1986 only six spring chinook returned to the White River, putting the viability of the run in question. “At the time, there was a chance that so few fish would return that the run would blink out,” Ladley said.

When the Muckleshoot Tribe opened their hatchery on the White River, fisheries managers began releasing the spring chinook back to the river to supplement the run. Because of diligent hatchery management, the spring chinook population on the White River has slowly increased since, with returns now normally in the thousands.

After being transported to the acclimation ponds, the juvenile spring chinook will be fed by the tribe for eight weeks. Once they are imprinted on the upper watershed creeks, they’ll be released to begin their journey to the ocean.

The acclimation pond program has played a large role in the recovery of the spring stock. “More and more springers are coming back each year to the upper tributaries,” Smith said. “Some creeks went from zero spawners to dozens in the last decade.”