Tracking Skagit River Chum

SKAGIT COUNTY (Feb. 8, 2008) – The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) and the Upper Skagit Tribe are working with biologists at Seattle City Light and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to track the movements of chum salmon that spawn downstream of three hydroelectric dams.

In recent years, chum have become increasingly important to tribal commercial fisheries. To effectively manage chum fisheries, the tribes and WDFW need an accurate count of the chum that return to spawn in the Skagit River. The current method that biologists use to count spawning chum was based on studies done in the 1970s. Since then, the distribution of chum spawning has changed, largely due to changes in the way the dams release water. These changes mean that biologists were unsure how accurate their counts of spawning chum were.

“Imagine trying to run a business and not being sure how much money you have in the bank,” said Jake Musslewhite, SRSC field biologist. SRSC is the natural resource arm of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes.

Seattle City Light, which operates the dams on the Skagit River, needs the data on chum movement to determine how much water to release from its dams during salmon spawning season.

Last fall, Musslewhite and a team of technicians beach-seined chum along a stretch of the Skagit River. The salmon were measured, jaw-tagged, gillplate-punched and implanted with an acoustic transmitter the size of a Chapstick. The acoustic tags send signals to receivers throughout the Skagit basin that record the salmon’s movements. The other tags externally identify the fish as ones that have been tagged and counted.

On the spawning grounds, technicians from WDFW and the tribes counted spawning chum and checked dead, spawned-out fish for tags. Biologists are analyzing the data and will use it to update the way chum salmon is counted on the Skagit.

For more information, contact: Jake Musslewhite, Skagit River System Cooperative, 360-391-4386 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].