FORKS (Sept. 14, 2004) — Standing waist-deep in the Sol Duc River, Dean Jackson slides a thrashing 30-pound king salmon into a plastic mesh tube. Whipsawing its tail, the big king soaks the Quileute tribal fisheries technician, displaying the strength it has acquired through eons of evolution.
The Quileute Tribe is working to preserve the fish’s physical strength and other genetic traits by hand-spawning, or supplementing, wild summer run chinook. The goal of tribal fisheries staff is to capture 50 males and 50 females in late July to mid-September. The live fish are transported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Sol Duc Hatchery, where, under a cooperative agreement, the tribe uses the hatchery for a portion of their enhancement efforts.
Supplementation of the wild run began about 20 years ago when the Quileute Tribe saw numbers of chinook dropping sharply. “Historically, it’s not a strong run. The numbers are variable,” said Roger Lien, fisheries biologist for the Quileute Tribe. “Numbers were low enough then that the tribe saw the run as a good candidate for supplementation.” Supplemented chinook, which are reared in a hatchery, survive in higher numbers early in their lives because of the sheltered environment and abundance of food. This usually leads to higher adult returns than fish that spawn in the wild.
Eggs from returning female chinook are fertilized by sperm from males arriving in the river at the same time. The fertilized eggs remain at the state hatchery for a few weeks before being transferred to the Quileute Tribe’s Lonesome Creek Hatchery in LaPush. In June, an average 80,000 –100,000 of the young chinook are released in the Sol Duc River to begin their ocean migration. They return as adults in four to six years.
Returns of the wild summer run overlap with a state-introduced spring chinook hatchery run. The tribe is collecting genetic material from the fish in hopes of securing funding to determine if there is still a genetic difference between the two fish runs. “There is some mixing of the fish, but we don’t know to what extent,” said Lien.
“The state has talked about closing the Sol Duc Hatchery, but we’re concerned that because these two runs overlap, the hatchery run may be propping up the numbers of the wild run. Without those hatchery fish, the wild summer chinook run could crash,” said Mel Moon, natural resources director for the Quileute Tribe. “There is a substantial cost to getting the answers to these questions. To get an accurate read on our recovery goals, we need a lot more information.”
For more information contact: Mel Moon, natural resources director, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-5695; Roger Lien, fisheries biologist, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-5695; Dahnielle Buesch, Lonesome Creek Hatchery manager, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-5696; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501