Puyallup Tribe trying to find out what’s happening to the spring chinook

Justin Paul, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe, conducts a survey in the upper White River watershed.
Justin Paul, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe, conducts a survey in the upper White River watershed.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is trying to find out why so many spring chinook are passed above a dam on the White River, but so few of them end up spawning.

“We’re trying to identify sources of pre-spawning mortality that have contributed to a wide disparity between the number of adults hauled upstream and the number of fish counted on the spawning grounds,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the tribe. “It takes more than eight adult chinook to produce one redd or nest in the White.” This contrasts with other Puget Sound Rivers where typically less than three adults are needed to make one redd.

“These radio tags will give us a pretty clear picture of where these fish end up,” Ladley said.

Tribal staff will attached small radio tags to 200 female adult spring chinook caught at the Buckley Diversion Dam fish trap on the White River, a tributary to the Puyallup. After being tagged at the trap, the chinook will be hauled up above Mud Mountain dam and released. Chinook in the Puyallup watershed are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act

Both the tribe and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are providing funds for the study.

“We’re assuming after we encounter them at the trap, that they’re heading upstream to spawn,” Ladley said. “But, we just aren’t seeing that happen. With the data we collect during surveys, we possibly help track down what is preventing these fish from spawning.”

White River spring chinook have been the focus of restoration efforts for decades. A hatchery restoration program for the early run fish began in the 1970s when the state began capturing fish for broodstock.

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 a hatchery on the White River in 1989, fisheries managers began releasing the spring chinook back to the White River to supplement the hatchery program.

Because of diligent hatchery management, the spring chinook population on the White River has slowly increased since 1986, with returns now normally in the thousands.

The Puyallup Tribe has used the same radio tagging technique to track steelhead and bull trout. “With our other tracking efforts, we’ve really zeroed in on the habitat those other fish use throughout the watershed,” Ladley said. “We even found tiny creeks and springs that weren’t on any maps that ended up being important habitat for bull trout.”

The tribe also conducts regular chinook spawning surveys on almost 20 creeks and rivers throughout the watershed. The tribe uses Global Positioning Technology to map chinook redds (nests) on five of those creeks. “The data we gather when the fish are in the upper river is adding even more detail to what we know about these fish,” Ladley said.


For more information, contact: Russ Ladley, resource protection manager, Puyallup Tribe of Indians (253) 845-9225. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181, ext. 392, [email protected].