Puyallup Tribe rebuilds acclimation ponds to keep salmon safe

As 100,000 silvery coho yearlings were delivered this month to the newly rebuilt Cowskull acclimation pond in a blast of water from a hose, the Puyallup River was so near you could hear its burble. Tribal and WDFW staff loaded yearling coho into a new Puyallup Fisheries truck equipped with tanks designed to keep the salmon healthy. The fish were raised in partnership with the state at Voight Creek Hatchery. 

Later this spring, the salmon will be released into the river for the next stage of their journey to the ocean. The facility update is the result of a co-management partnership the Puyallup Tribe of Indians hopes will continue revitalizing the salmon population in the Upper Puyallup watershed.

A view of the Puyallup River, where the fish raised by the Puyallup Tribe will be released this spring.

The Cowskull and Rushingwater acclimation ponds were originally built in 1997 as part of a resource enhancement agreement with Puget Sound Energy and had been degraded by weather and environmental damage.

The new acclimation ponds will have feeding systems and fencing that protects the young fish from predators such as otters. Ponds will be broken in with the addition of 400,000 fall chinook and 100,000 coho that now have safe places to eat and grow larger and stronger. Monitored at least once a week by tribal staff, the fish will eventually be released into the cold, clear water of the Puyallup River.

“Life is good here for a fish,” said fisheries enhancement chief Blake Smith “We started a run and we keep it going.”

The fish are expected to imprint on the watershed and return there to spawn. 

The ponds were rebuilt during recent hatchery upgrades that included eight new raceways and incubation facilities at the Diru Creek Hatchery. The new raceways—structures proven to ensure a healthy rearing environment—can each hold 100,000 fish. 

“These projects would not have happened without the collaboration from WDFW. We all need to work together to boost salmon populations and provide fish for the region.  This is co-management working now and into the future,” said Smith. 

Earlier this month, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and partners introduced coho to one of  two newly rebuilt acclimation ponds in the upper Puyallup watershed. Photo: Trevor Pyle