The Skokomish Tribe is wrapping up the first five years of an intensive 16-year study to enhance steelhead populations in Hood Canal rivers. Puget Sound steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

An important component of the study is sampling redds that are created each spring by naturally spawning steelhead.

The tribe has counted nearly 200 salmon egg nests, also called redds, so far this season in the 30-mile-long Skokomish River. Eggs will be pumped from 40 of the healthiest redds between mid-May to mid-June to support the project.

NOAA’s Rob Endicott and Skokomish Tribe’s Matt Kowalski and Anthony Battista pump eggs out of a salmon nest for a steelhead salmon supplementation project.

“We’ve reached our egg collection goals every year of 30,000 eggs, and we’ve successfully raised healthy smolts that are released after two years of rearing at the state’s McKernan Hatchery,” Kowalski said. “We’re also keeping a small portion of smolts and raising them to adulthood at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Manchester facility before releasing them in the river, helping increase their chances of spawning.
“We’re preparing also this spring for the return of the first steelhead that were collected as eggs in 2007,” he added. “We’re starting to see more fish in the lower river than we have in the past few years.”

Steelhead are elusive ­— the tribe maybe will see about 20 live fish a year when surveying the river. But based on the number of redds counted, the tribe can estimate that about 300-400 are returning annually to the South Fork of the river and its tributaries.

“The number of redds determines success of the project,” Kowalski said. “Early indications from this year show an increase in redds but we won’t know if this trend will continue until after more surveying is completed.”

The South Fork of the Skokomish River is just one of the many rivers that are part of this Hood Canal-wide project. The Duckabush and Dewatto rivers are also supplemented with steelhead; Tahuya, Big Beef, Hamma Hamma, Dosewallips and Little Quilcene rivers are not, as comparison rivers.
Other partners in the study are Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Puget Sound Partnership, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Point No Point Treaty Council, Long Live The Kings, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, Hood Canal Coordinating Council and Tacoma Power.

For more information, contact: Matt Kowalski, Skokomish Tribe steelhead biologist, at (360) 877-5213 or mkowalski@skokomish.org; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.