The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe reared about 20,000 chum fry at a remote site incubator this spring as part of a developing hatchery program. The fry are being released in Sauk tributaries Hatchery and Lyle creeks, as well as the river’s confluence.

Lyle Creek was a traditional chum harvesting area for the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, but no salmon spawn naturally there now.

“If we get any returns to these creeks, we’ll know it’s from this program,” said Grant Kirby, fish biologist for the tribe.

Chum enhancement began in 2015 with Sauk broodstock that were spawned at the state’s Marblemount Hatchery, then incubated onsite using flow from Hatchery Creek. Remote site incubators consist of two barrels; sediment is filtered out in the first barrel before the water flows into the second, where the eggs incubate. The fish become acclimated to the water where they will be released.

This year, the tribe attached pipes to the incubator so the fish could swim into a circular holding tank after they absorbed their yolk sacs.

“We tied the remote site incubator to the rearing tank to give the fry a better chance of survival by feeding them for approximately four weeks before releasing them,” Kirby said.

Chum returns to the Skagit watershed have been extremely low since 2008, making it difficult to collect enough fish for broodstock. With better returns in 2017, the tribe set up the incubators on tribal property where a permanent facility will be built. A Sauk Chum Hatchery Genetics Management Plan (HGMP) has been submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for approval, with a broodstock objective to collect 50 adult males and 50 females from the Sauk River run.

Salmon runs across Puget Sound are in decline because of lost and degraded habitat. Remote site incubators enable fisheries co-managers to supplement natural production where spawning habitat is inadequate and abundances are low.

Photo: Sauk-Suiattle natural resources technician James Misanes checks on the chum fry in a rearing tank at the tribe’s hatchery site.