Suquamish Tribe turns attention to juvenile coho salmon in Chico watershed

After a decade estimating adult coho salmon runs in the Chico Creek watershed, the Suquamish Tribe is now turning its attention to the coho offspring.

A new monitoring effort is taking place at the Wildcat Creek and Lost Creek tributaries, where the tribe is counting out-migrating smolts in the spring, plus extensive adult coho salmon spawning surveys in the fall.

“We’re eager to get an idea of the juvenile coho salmon production coming out of Wildcat and Lost Creeks,” said Jon Oleyar, a Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologist. “The habitat up here is probably some of the best in the region.”

Jon Oleyar, Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologist, prepares a bucket of smolt-trapped fish for measuring before releasing them.

WDFW conducted a similar coho out-migrant study almost 30 years ago, which the tribe can use to compare productivity of these two streams. The habitat in both tributaries has remained relatively intact during this 30-year period.

“I wouldn’t expect there to be much difference because there hasn’t been much development in this area,” Oleyar said. “The number of coho leaving the Chico Creek watershed is a direct result of the habitat they have available to them. Protecting that habitat is the best way to ensure coho keep coming down.”

Wildcat Creek and its source, Wildcat Lake, provide excellent rearing habitat for juvenile salmon spawned immediately above and below Wildcat Lake.  The lake is a critical nursery for these juvenile salmon for up to two years until they are ready to head downstream to Chico Bay and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

“We’ve been seeing some larger coho smolts coming through the trap recently which are thought to be coming from the lake,” Oleyar said. “This is an encouraging sign concerning the health of Wildcat Lake.”

He has been concerned about fish passage from the lake through a failing Kitsap County culvert, which remains a concern for both juvenile and adult passage each year it is not replaced.

As of mid-June, about 4,400 total coho smolts had been trapped, counted and released from traps in the two tributaries to Chico Creek. It’s the first time the tribe has trapped out-migrating smolts in the watershed.