Suquamish Tribe Studies Interaction of Hatchery And Wild Salmon

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND (June 8, 2004) – Mixed in a seine net with a large haul of shrimp and sticklebacks swims a juvenile chinook salmon. “Here’s what we’re looking for,” says Paul Dorn, salmon recovery coordinator for the Suquamish Tribe. After scooping up the small fish, Dorn waves a wand over the salmon and the wand beeps, indicating the fish has a coded wire tag in its nose. “It’s probably a hatchery fish all right.”

The coded wire tag tells Dorn that the chinook salmon was bred in one of western Washington’s salmon hatcheries. To better understand how hatchery salmon, wild salmon and other marine life are interacting in the sound’s nearshore environments, the Suquamish Tribe has been seining several beaches throughout Kitsap County. The project – funded by federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery funds – will help the tribe manage fisheries and hatcheries.

The project involves measuring all the sea life captured in the seine net, as well as weighing all chinook salmon. The tribe is checking the health of marine life, particularly salmon and fish that salmon eat, such as sand lance, surf smelt and herring. The tribe also is documenting how long each species stays in a particular area. By clipping the adipose fin of all hatchery-raised chinook, the tribe can identify which salmon originated from a hatchery.

“We need to understand how salmon are using the nearshore environment and what food resources are available to these fish to help us make decisions on how to adjust our hatchery management schemes, land use regulations and habitat projects,” Dorn said. “We want to make sure our efforts to help salmon are not actually harming them.”

In 1999, Puget Sound chinook salmon were listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. Since then, the Suquamish Tribe has been adjusting its hatchery operations to help bring back abundant salmon populations without harming fragile wild salmon stocks. The effort is known as Hatchery Reform, and the project’s goal is to help recover and conserve naturally spawning salmon populations and support sustainable fisheries for Indians and non-Indians. The seining project also will help monitor Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery nearshore projects and provide vital information that will be used in shoreline management plans and other planning processes.

Information gathered from the project will help the tribe coordinate the release of juvenile hatchery salmon. Releasing the hatchery fish at certain times of the year will eliminate the possibility that juvenile hatchery-reared salmon will compete for food and habitat with young wild salmon.

So far, the beach-seining project has netted salmon that spawned in the Nisqually, White, Skagit and Green rivers, as well as from Miller Bay near the Suquamish Tribe’s Port Madison Indian Reservation. The tribe operates the Grover’s Creek Hatchery near Miller Bay, the Gorst Creek rearing ponds near Sinclair Inlet, the Clear Creek rearing pond near Dyes Inlet, and the Websters rearing pond near Liberty Bay. The tribe releases about 3 million hatchery chinook salmon annually.

Along with the Suquamish Tribe, the City of Bainbridge Island, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Liberty Bay Foundation, Friends of Miller Bay, Trout Unlimited and several other volunteers from Kitsap communities are involved in the project.

“The nearshore environment is extremely important for salmon,” Dorn said. “And by painting an accurate picture of the nearshore, we can better understand how hatchery and wild salmon are interacting with one another and other marine life.”


BFor more information, contact:B Paul Dorn, salmon recovery coordinator for the Suquamish Tribe, (360) 394-5245, [email protected]. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, [email protected].