Students team with Puyallup Tribe to raise, release salmon

A partnership between the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and two nearby schools continued this year, inspiring students to learn more about salmon—and helping the tribe learn how to better protect them.

The tribe provided more than 60,000 chinook to be raised by Science and Math Institute (SAMI) students in net pens at Point Defiance. Spawned at the tribe’s Clarks Creek hatchery by Chief Leschi School students, the chinook were released in July along with a similar number provided by Washington State Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). About 110,000 fish were released in this, the fifth year of the partnership. 

The partnership, which also includes Puget Sound Anglers and local and federal government agencies, has multiple benefits.

The students at SAMI and Chief Leschi Schools get more than a brief exposure to the hard work needed to  spawn and care for the fish; they get hands-on experience that could  spark a wider interest in natural resources. 

SAMI students in both life sciences and the math and physical science pathways participate in the project with duties including water quality testing, measuring and feeding the fish—learning about threats salmon face and the elements of robust stewardship.

In a more recent addition, students also design, build and use underwater robots to take footage used to monitor the nets for tears from predators and gauge the health of the ecosystem. 

SAMI co-director Liz Minks said the program may grow even wider in the near future. As chinook released in the early years of the collaboration return to spawn after their journey to the ocean and back, students studying statistics will become involved with monitoring that aspect of the program. 

“They’ve involved students who may not have thought about fish before, let alone work with them,” said the tribe’s fisheries enhancement chief Blake Smith. 

Results of the students’ study of  the fish released directly into the Puget Sound from net pens will give the tribe the opportunity to learn if those fish are safer from toxins and predators than those released in Puyallup River.

“We’re hoping to see better survival rates. Time will tell,” Smith said. 

Initial toxicology studies done on the fish—most of which are coded wire tagged—are promising, but more work will need to be done. The partnership between the schools, tribes and agencies helps that science advance.

“It’s going to take everyone to save salmon,” he said.

Young visits inspect the salmon moments before the fish were released as the result of a partnership between Puyallup Tribe of Indians, SAMI and Chief Leschi Schools. Photo and story: Trevor Pyle