FORKS (July 11, 2005)–In early summer, two runs of chinook salmon converge on the Sol Duc River.

The abundant spring chinook run begins returning in late April. It’s a pure hatchery stock introduced by the state of Washington in the 1970s that returns to a hatchery on the Sol Duc where eggs and milt are collected, and young fish reared for release in the river.

The summer chinook run begins returning in July. This is a depressed run that has been supplemented by the Quileute Tribe for 20 years. Tribal technicians capture adult broodstock in the river between July and September and raise the offspring in a hatchery to increase survival rates. The young fish are released in early summer, returning as adults in four to six years.

But because a small number of the two stocks intermingle on the spawning grounds, the overall health of the summer run is impossible to determine, complicating efforts to improve it.

The Quileute Tribe wants to determine to what extent the spring hatchery stock is supporting the summer run. By inserting coded wire tags in up to 200,000 summer supplemented chinook prior to their release for at least six years, and hopefully longer, the tribe will get one part of the picture.

“Tagging these fish over a number of years will give us a definitive tool to measure our performance,” Dahnielle Buesch, hatchery manager for the Quileute Tribe. “We can make changes in our operations to improve returns and see if they work over time.”

Meanwhile, to further determine the extent of mixing between the two runs, the tribe is collecting tissues samples for genetic analysis. Funding for that work is still being sought.

“It’s going to take time and dedicated resources to determine if the hatchery run is adding a benefit to the naturally returning summer stock,” said Mel Moon, tribal natural resources director for the Quileute Tribe. The tribe has opposed repeated attempts to close the state hatchery because of the possibility that the spring hatchery run is helping to sustain the summer run. “We would like to know with some degree of certainty what impacts plus or minus, we may be causing before we commit to those kinds of decisions,” said Moon.

Additionally, state hatchery staff and Quileute tribal hatchery staff work cooperatively and the tribe uses parts of the state facility to complete rearing of the summer chinook prior to their release. “The staff at the Sol Duc Hatchery is great. They are a great help to us,” said Buesch.

The $15,000 cost for the tagging effort comes from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, an independent scientific panel that guides the Hatchery Reform Project. The project, launched by Congress, is a systematic, science-driven examination of how hatcheries can help recover and conserve naturally spawning salmon populations and support sustainable fisheries.

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For more information, contact: Mel Moon, natural resources director, Quileute Tribe (360) 374-5695; Dahnielle Buesch, Lonesome Creek Hatchery manager, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-5695; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, dpreston@nwfc.org