Terry Sebastian, biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, loads an auto feeder at a pond on Huckleberry Creek, a tributary to the White River.

Terry Sebastian, biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, loads an auto feeder at a pond on Huckleberry Creek, a tributary to the White River.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is releasing young steelhead from an acclimation pond in the upper White River to help restore a weak run of the federally protected fish.

“Acclimation ponds help ensure there are juvenile steelhead in the river each year to take advantage of the available habitat,” said Blake Smith, hatchery manager for the Puyallup Tribe. The fish will be released at a pond on Huckleberry Creek, a tributary to the White River in the Puyallup watershed.

To help restore the declining run, the Muckleshoot and Puyallup tribes started a steelhead broodstock program in 2006. Each year, the partners spawn up to 25 wild steelhead taken from an adult trap on the White.

The project usually releases from 20,000 to 50,000 juvenile steelhead each year from the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery. This will be the first release of hatchery steelhead from the pond program.

Steelhead returns from the genetic broodstock program have ranged from 210 to 359 adults each year. “It’s encouraging to see this many steelhead come back, given the low release numbers,” Smith said.

Puyallup watershed steelhead stocks have been crashing for the past decade. Puyallup steelhead are also a part of a larger Puget Sound wide stock that is listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“No one is sure why steelhead populations in the Puyallup and the rest of South Sound have dropped so much in recent years,” Smith said. “Hopefully, by getting these fish up into the upper watershed, we can continue to help them hold on.”

Puyallup tribal fisheries staff load automatic feeders for thousands of juvenille steelhead high in the White River watershed.

Puyallup tribal fisheries staff load automatic feeders for thousands of juvenile steelhead high in the White River watershed.