Volunteers Rediscover A Late Coho Salmon Run

YELM (March 18, 2005) – Volunteer salmon watchers rediscovered a run of late coho salmon that hadn’t been seen in the Nisqually River for more than a decade.

In late January volunteer salmon watchers started seeing dozens of coho salmon in Nisqually River tributaries, much later than normal. “On some of these streams, volunteers have gone out diligently for months and had hardly seen any salmon,” said Jeanette Dorner, salmon recovery manger for the Nisqually Tribe. “We asked them to keep looking for a few more weeks, and all of a sudden they started seeing coho.”

Coho typically enter the Nisqually River in October, but those earlier fish are likely the products of hatcheries and other supplementation. “Nisqually River late run coho salmon are a unique, wild run of fish that probably has always been coming back to the river,” said Dorner. “We just weren’t sure they were still there.”

“These weren’t coho returning to only one stream,” said Dorner. Late run coho were counted in Muck Creek near Roy, Toboton Creek in southern Thurston County, and the Mashel River near Eatonville, among other places. “These coho were all over the place.”

“It’s possible that for the past 10 years these coho were returning in such depressed numbers that they were never seen,” said Dorner. “This year’s return could possibly be a strong run of late coho.”

Next winter, the tribe plans to expand its efforts to try to more closely track late run coho. “We want to collect genetic material from these fish to see how closely related they are to other populations,” said Dorner. “We weren’t even looking for these fish before the volunteers rediscovered them. We’re definitely going out to find them next year.”

The Nisqually Tribe’s salmon watchers program has grown sharply in the last three years. “Just about every salmon stream in the watershed has at least one salmon watcher,” said Dorner. “This is such a great way to get involved in salmon recovery. You only need to dedicate less than an hour a week.”

Salmon watchers are trained to identify salmon at sessions offered by the Nisqually Tribe. The training includes trips to the tribe’s two hatcheries. Volunteers are expected to watch their assigned stream for at least fifteen minutes each time, even if they don’t spot any fish. A count of zero fish can still provide important information about salmon habitat health and accessibility of habitat for salmon. “Salmon watchers give us a heads up when something, like a malfunctioning culvert, needs attention,” said Dorner. “We take the information collected by the watchers seriously.”

“This is how community involvement in salmon recovery is helping to bring salmon back,” said Dorner. “Without these volunteers, there is no way that we could keep a close eye on every stream in the Nisqually River watershed.”

“This is a good sign for salmon throughout the Nisqually River watershed,” said Georgianna Kautz, natural resources manager for the tribe. “These salmon obviously have habitat to return to, it’s important that we make sure they always do.”


For more information, contact: Jeanette Dorner, salmon recovery program manager, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Sayre Hodgson, biologist, Nisqually Indian Tribe, (360) 438-8687. Emmett O’Connell, South Sound information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, [email protected]