Tulalip Tribes mark 1.3 million chinook salmon for release

TULALIP (May 2, 2007) – Tulalip tribal members are snipping the small fleshy fins from the backs of more than a million chinook salmon at the tribe’s hatchery, to distinguish them from their federally protected wild counterparts. The process, one of several methods of mass marking, is currently being conducted at the hatchery in two trailers provided by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Tulalip has been mass marking its hatchery chinook since 1993 as part of an aggressive salmon recovery program in Puget Sound. New state fishing regulations, however, may set the salmon recovery program back and reduce stock in Puget Sound waters.

“Mass marking allows us to produce and harvest hatchery fish responsibly, while protecting the threatened wild chinook stocks,” said Terry Williams, commissioner of fisheries and natural resources for the Tulalip Tribes.

The absence of an adipose fin lets recreational fishermen know that a fish was born in a hatchery and does not have to be thrown back into the water in a selective fishery. One of the largest producers of hatchery salmon in the state, the Tulalip Tribes produce 11 million fish every year. Besides marking by removal of the adipose fin, Tulalip uses imprinting of ear bones with unique patterns to track hatchery fish in catches and in rivers.

“We’re contributing to the harvest for tribal and non-tribal commercial fishermen, as well as recreational fishermen,” said Williams. “But our long-term objective is to restore natural production so that tribal fisheries can one day target wild fish again. We conduct our hatchery and harvest programs so that there can be fishing opportunity with the smallest possible harm to protected wild chinook salmon.”

Tulalip fishermen have given up fishing for wild chinook for more than 20 years. They fish only for hatchery chinook, reared at the Bernie Kai Kai Gobin Salmon Hatchery, which return to a small area in Tulalip Bay. Studies using the ear bone mass marks have shown that over 90 percent of the chinook harvested by the tribe in the Tulalip Bay fishery were produced by the tribe.

Although the tribe is joining other hatcheries in the adipose fin removal program, there are concerns about the move towards selective recreational fisheries that require the release of wild unmarked salmon. These new fishing regulations may in some cases reduce the numbers of both wild fish and hatchery stock returning to Tulalip and surrounding waters.

“The idea of throwing back wild salmon in favor of hatchery fish may not work the way the regulations intended, given the uncertain mortality rate of fish that are thrown back after being caught,” said Kit Rawson, Tulalip senior fishery management biologist. “Preservation numbers may actually be better when you don’t discriminate between wild and hatchery fish. Generally you have to catch many wild salmon to obtain a hatchery fish that you can keep. With this larger group of wild salmon facing hooking injuries and time on deck (for photos, etc.) Tulalip fishery experts believe the true mortality rates may greatly exceed the numbers modeled by the state. When all fish caught must be brought to the boat, you can get the best assessment of the true impact of the fishery. That’s how tribal fisheries are managed.,” he said.

Tulalip is required to closely monitor the tribal fishery to document that the tribe is harvesting mainly hatchery fish. The tribe agreed to recreational selective fisheries under the condition that the state implement a similar level of monitoring. Tribal fishery managers will be closely looking at the results to see how well the impacts of the selective fishery match the predictions in the model.

“Turning the tide on salmon recovery requires a three-pronged program designed to promote both restoration of wild salmon runs and additional supply through hatchery efforts,” said Mel Sheldon, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes. “Habitat protection and restoration, hatchery reform, and reduction in harvest are all necessary and key to providing relief for distressed wild salmon runs. The loss of spawning and rearing habitat is the main cause of the decline in wild salmon runs. If we are to save our wild salmon runs, we must boost our efforts to preserve and restore this habitat,” said Sheldon.

Besides adding more fish throughout Puget Sound, the Tribes’ salmon production efforts continue to benefit both Indian and non-tribal fisheries throughout the Northwest, including British Columbia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For more information, contact: George White, Tulalip Tribes Public Affairs, cell: 425-263-0981, office: 360-651-4795, [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, North Sound information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226, [email protected].