ELDON (June 16, 2003) — Using a small net, Greg Sullivan scoops the remaining salmon from a smolt trap’s holding tank and counts his catch before releasing the juvenile fish back into the river. “That’s the last of them for today,” says the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s natural resources technician, who checks the trap on the Hamma Hamma River twice a week. “That makes 1,253 juvenile salmon. By far the most I’ve seen here at one time.”

And that’s a good sign. The more fish that show up in the smolt trap’s tank, the more accurate of a count the tribe can get on how many juvenile salmon, or smolts, are migrating from the freshwater of the Hamma Hamma River into the saltwater of Hood Canal. The smolt trap is part of a project conducted by the Port Gamble and Skokomish tribes, a local landowner, Long Live the Kings, the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The “smolt trap” is a large, water-powered device that safely catches young salmon, allowing the fish to be studied and returned to the river unharmed. It’s anchored near the shore of the river just below the site where a tributary reaches the main stem of the Hamma Hamma.

“The level of smolt production from the river is important because it reflects the quantity and quality of freshwater salmonid habitat available in the watershed,” said Cindy Gray, Port Gamble S’Klallam fisheries biologist. “That information will help us forecast future adult salmon returns and determine what is best for this river in terms of harvest management, stock enhancement and habitat restoration. It’s not enough to just know how many salmon return to the river, we need to know how many are leaving, especially Hood Canal summer chum.”

Along with Puget Sound chinook salmon and Lake Ozette sockeye, Hood Canal summer chum are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. The information collected about the summer chum salmon population on the Hamma Hamma River will go a long way toward helping the species rebound in the Puget Sound region. Declining chinook, pink and coho salmon, along with steelhead populations, also will be studied.

Without the help of a local family, this project would not be possible. The Robbins family, which owns the property along the portion of the river where salmon spawn, has allowed those involved in the project to have access to their land. “Without their help we would not be able to conduct this important research,” Gray said. “Being stewards of the river is very important to the Robbins family, and we are lucky to have them assisting with this project.”

The Hamma Hamma River is located in northern Mason and southern Jefferson counties on the west side of Hood Canal at Eldon. The river is one of the largest watersheds contributing to Hood Canal, with a mainstem of about 30 miles and about 140 miles of tributary habitat.

“Cooperative projects involving tribes, the state, local landowners and nonprofit organizations are needed if we are going to help struggling salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest,” said Dave Herrera, fisheries manager for the Skokomish Tribe. “This project is a perfect example of several groups working together for a common cause, to save the region’s salmon stocks.”

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For more information, contact: Cindy Gray, fisheries biologist for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, (360) 297-6311, cgray@pgst.nsn.us. Dave Herrera, fisheries director for the Skokomish Tribe, (360) 877-5213, davidh@skokomish.org. Darren Friedel, NWIFC information officer, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.

Photos available: Photos of the smolt trap on the Hamma Hamma River can be e-mailed. Contact Darren Friedel at the above number.