Upper Skagit Tribe expands shellfish program

Upper Skagit technicians Robert Schuyler (left) and Tim Shelton examine a spot prawn with biologist Kyle Deerkop.

SEDRO-WOOLLEY – The Upper Skagit Tribe has ramped up its shellfish program by hiring a new biologist and holding test fisheries on spot prawns.

Test fisheries improve harvest management by providing information about population size.

“Expanding our program will help us learn more about shellfish such as shrimp, so we can protect our resources now and for future generations,” said Scott Schuyler, the tribe’s natural resources policy coordinator.

The tribe has been testing the spot prawn population before and after commercial, ceremonial and subsistence fisheries to monitor the impacts of fishing on the stock. Last spring, shellfish biologist Kyle Deerkop and technicians Larry Peterson, Tim Shelton and Robert Schuyler set 100 pots, measuring a sample of the spot prawns, and recording their stage of sexual maturity.

Spot prawns have an unusual reproductive cycle. Most mature first as males, and after a couple of breeding seasons, change sex and reproduce for a few seasons as females.

Studies have shown that males sometimes change into females at a younger age, or skip the male phase when faced with increased fishing pressure or higher natural mortality. This could be a reproductive strategy to make sure there are enough egg-producing females each season.

“Shellfish have always been crucially important to our culture and way of life,” said Scott Schuyler, the tribe’s natural resources policy coordinator. “It’s very important for the tribe to continue to gather shellfish as our ancestors did.”

For more information, contact: Scott Schuyler, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7090 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].