Skokomish Tribe part of steelhead supplementation project

SKOKOMISH (June 18, 2007) – The Skokomish Tribe is embarking on a 16-year-effort to evaluate the effects of releasing hatchery-reared steelhead in Hood Canal rivers to help boost the wild population. This project comes at a crucial time because steelhead were recently listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The tribe has a strong interest in restoring and conserving the steelhead population in the Skokomish River and in the greater Hood Canal watershed,” said Jim Huinker, the tribe’s finfish management biologist. “We’re hoping the results of the study will provide better information on how hatchery supplementation affects the naturally-spawning steelhead population.”

A central part of the study is collecting eggs from redds (fish egg nests in rivers) for the next eight years from the Skokomish, Duckabush and Dewatto rivers. The eggs will be reared in several state hatcheries and then released back into the rivers of origin at various stages in their lifecycle, from juvenile to adulthood.

A similar study on the Hamma Hamma River that began in the late 1990s is showing that the number of redds increased with this method. For the last four years of the 16-year project, biologists will stop supplementing the naturally spawning salmon population to monitor the effectiveness of the effort.

The Tahuya, Dosewallips and Hamma Hamma rivers and Big Beef Creek are also included in the study but will be monitored separately for comparison. Every major steelhead-producing river in Hood Canal will be included in the project.

Researchers will also record steelhead spawning and migration patterns and collect tissues samples to determine the genetic makeup of the fish. The study will also provide information on smolt-to-adult return survival rates from radio telemetry transmitters that will be surgically implanted into a small percentage of the smolts recorded and released from screw traps.

“After studying hatcheries for 100 years or more, we still don’t have a good idea of how hatcheries affect natural populations,” said Barry Berejikian of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the project’s lead biologist. “The study will help answer whether this conservation hatchery will lead to increases or decreases in the natural steelhead population.”

The project is a collaboration of the tribe, NOAA, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Point No Point Treaty Council, Long Live the Kings and the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.