Across most of Puget Sound, tribal fisheries and hatchery managers report that fall chinook returns are running at about one-third of preseason expectations.
“The fish came in late and low, but enough to get our eggs in the end, though we were getting concerned,” said Mike Crewson, salmon enhancement biologist for the Tulalip Tribes. “We were not even at two-thirds of the Wallace Hatchery escapement goal until the week before spawning when some significant rains following prolonged dry conditions brought in enough fish to get our eggs.”
The tribes’ chinook harvest in Tulalip Bay this year was the second lowest in the last 25 years, following a record low in 2012.
Despite the low returns, hatchery managers say they’re still able to eke out the number of eggs needed to produce next year’s chinook releases.
Poor returns resulted in low harvests in some areas.
“The run was not what we expected,” said Joe Peters, fisheries manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “Our participation in the fishery was pretty low, mostly because the fish weren’t coming in droves. Most of our fishermen stayed on the shore, waiting for the chinook to come in, but they never did.”
Two tribes, Skokomish and Nisqually, were forced to close chinook fisheries because of the small returns.
The chinook fisheries in the Skokomish River and Purdy Creek operated as agreed to during preseason. The return was lower than forecast, with catch in the mainstem river down more than half from 2013. The tribe was fortunate to have Purdy Creek open for access to surplus hatchery fish making up for those low catches in the mainstem river, said Cindy Gray, Skokomish Tribe’s harvest manager. Also, tribal Chinook fisheries in Hood Canal (south of Ayock) showed a similar trend of reduced catch as in the Skokomish River.
However, both the Skokomish Tribe and WDFW had to shut down fisheries in the Hoodsport area so that the Hoodsport Hatchery could collect enough for its broodstock program.
“We don’t know why the returns were so low,” she said. “The warm water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca could have affected them or many other environmental factors, we will know more once we have all the data to reconstruct the run.”
“We weren’t getting enough chinook up into the watershed to spawn, and as a result we were not able to meet our community harvest objective,” said David Troutt, natural resource director for the Nisqually Tribe. “This is the keystone of the tribe’s fishing economy. This low run had a huge impact.”