Puyallup Tribe saving, tracking steelhead

The Puyallup Tribe recently kick started two projects to help save Puyallup River steelhead, one of the stocks currently being considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The tribe is starting a steelhead broodstock program and cooperating in a juvenille steelhead tracking study.Seattle Times:

The surgery took just four minutes.

From a makeshift operating room floating on the Puyallup River, biologist Andrew Berger sliced open a young fish and tucked a vitamin-sized transmitter into the folds of its belly.

While a colleague pumped water into the gasping steelhead’s mouth, Berger quickly stitched the wound closed so the 8-inch smolt could continue its journey out to sea.

For Berger and other biologists with the Puyallup Tribe, the delicate operation on this and dozens of other young fish may help answer some pressing questions: Where, exactly, do steelhead go when they leave the rivers that flow to Puget Sound? And could that help explain why so many are dying?

…In some river systems, such as the Puyallup, steelhead declines have become perilous, with spawning steelhead dropping from thousands to hundreds in a half-dozen years. Steelhead spawning nests, called reds, in one Puyallup tributary numbered about 400 a few years ago. Last year biologists found 32.

This spring, the tribe and state began capturing wild adult steelhead from a fish trap on the White River, a tributary of the Puyallup, and hauling them to a hatchery to rear more young because “people have started to hit panic mode,” said Russ Ladley, resource director for the Puyallup Tribe.

The region wide tracking program was featured in a story in the Tacoma News Tribune over the weekend. And another story about the tribe’s effort at KGW.