ALLYN (April 15, 2005) –The Squaxin Island Tribe is teaming up with a Sherwood Creek landowner to get a better understanding of salmon populations in the Mason County stream. The tribe is placing a smolt trap – a passive, water-powered device that safely and effectively captures young salmon – on Barry Fischer’s property near the mouth of creek.
Before the tribe installed their smolt trap on Fischer’s property, a site would be further up the creek, which empties into Case Inlet. “Being closer to the mouth allows us to catch salmon from almost every part of the creek’s watershed,” said Joe Peters, fisheries biologist with the Squaxin Island Tribe. “And, Barry’s property is about as far down the creek you can go before you are in the bay.”
“This is a great deal for us because it gives us a better count of young salmon that are leaving the system,” said Peters. The term smolt comes from the word “smoltification,” which refers to the physiological change that young salmon undergo while in freshwater, just before migrating downstream and entering saltwater.
The trap helps the tribe assess the quality of habitat throughout the Sherwood Creek watershed. “A large amount of young salmon leaving the creek is the direct result of good habitat,” said Peters. “All the adult salmon in the world could come back to Sherwood Creek, but if they don’t have habitat to return to, their offspring will not survive.”
Fischer sees the trap not only as a way to get better information on salmon, but also as a bridge between the local community and the Squaxin Island Tribe. “When I moved here it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of trust between the community and the tribe,” said Fischer, who belongs to the Allyn Salmon Enhancement Group, a volunteer organization. “I didn’t understand that and I wanted to do something to help.”
In addition to participating in the Allyn group’s efforts to enhance salmon in Sherwood Creek by planting juvenile hatchery salmon, Fischer has worked to restore salmon habitat on his own property by planting 300 trees along the creek. Trees provide shade that help regulate water temperature, among other benefits, for spawning and rearing salmon. “I believe that anyone that owns property along a steam is responsible for taking care of it,” he said. “Everyone should get involved in helping salmon.”
The tribe operates smolt traps on six creeks across the South Sound to track the health of salmon populations throughout their treaty-reserved fishing area. The traps will operate until the end of June, when most salmon smolts have migrated to sea. Tribal staff check the traps at least twice a day, noting species types, sizes and lengths.
In addition to smolt traps, the tribe also conducts fall spawning surveys on about a dozen creeks throughout the area. “The combination of traps and surveys gives us a picture of salmon populations at both ends of their lives: when they are young and right before they spawn and die,” said Peters.
“The tribal and state co-managers use this important data to develop sustainable fishing seasons for everyone,” said Peters. “The more information we have when we plan fisheries, the better fishing seasons tribal and non-tribal fisherman get.”
“The first step to protecting salmon is having good information on how many there actually are,” said Andy Whitener, fisheries manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “The help we’re getting from Barry is a testament to the local community’s commitment to protecting salmon.”
For more information, contact: Joe Peters, fisheries biologist, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3813. Barry Fischer, (360) 275-1152. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, [email protected]