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Salmon hatchery rejuvenating runs in Washington state

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 9:11 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — SEATTLE — A little over a year ago, the permanent Cedar River Hatchery began producing sockeye salmon in hopes of rejuvenating a run that has seen some hard times.

Good fortune came this past summer as an unexpected large return of 145,815 sockeye (45,871 was the preseason forecast) made the long journey back from the ocean to one of Washington state’s largest urban watersheds.

“The sockeye run has been depressed the past few years, and we’re in a rebuilding mode now,” said Paul Faulds, the Seattle Public Utilities Landsburg Mitigation Manager.

“We’re pleased with the functionality of the new hatchery, and it allows us to get bigger daily egg takes than we could’ve done at the old facility,” Faulds said. “It’s definitely proving to meet all our adaptive management goals.”

The permanent hatchery replaced a temporary facility that had been in operation since 1991.

There are 15.9 million eggs are in the hatchery’s incubators with another 3.6 million on hand, and Faulds says they’re on track to hit 20 million. The hatchery has the capacity to produce up to 34 million eggs.

The largest daily egg take this season was 1.58 million on Oct. 19, twice as large as day in the old facility.

“More fish are still rolling in, and we’re catching about 100 females a day at the fish weir,” Faulds said. “It is exciting and exhilarating to think about where we’ve come from just a year ago when we produced a total of 9.6 million eggs (on a sockeye return of 43,724).”

The first eggs were produced Sept. 18 and will hatch in late November, and will be released in January. Eggs will continue to hatch through March or April, and releases will occur through May.

“If we reach that 20 million fry survival with this new hatchery and see good wild fish production, then four years from now the potential of having a fishery is increased,” Faulds said.

This season, 30 percent will go into the Landsburg area near the hatchery, 30 percent mid-river and 40 percent at the river mouth.

“It is a difficult decision we make on where the fry are released,” Faulds said. “Fish released higher up in the river are subject to additional pressures of predation and other elements such as flooding mortality.”

Those in the sport-fishing industry are hopeful that a viable fishery will happen soon.“It is possible from the 2012 sockeye return that the new hatchery will contribute enough sockeye fry along with natural production in the Cedar (and other tributaries like Bear Creek) to give us a chance for a Lake Washington sockeye fishery in 2016,” said Frank Urabeck, a sport-fishing representative on the Cedar River Adaptive Management Work Group.

“Based on Lake Washington sockeye fry entry data going back to 1994, there is a 50 percent chance of a fishery if we can have at least 35 million total fry (wild and hatchery origin) leaving the Cedar River in 2013,” Urabeck said.

For a fishery to be considered, state Fish and Wildlife, tribal and other fish managers say at least 350,000 sockeye must enter the lake, but many say that figure is inflated.

“There has been some discussion between state and tribes about revisiting that goal,” said Urabeck, who feels it should land between 300,000 and 250,000.

The last time a sport and tribal fishery happened in Lake Washington was 2006, when 470,000 sockeye returned. That allowed an 18-day sport fishery, and was a great boost in the economy for all related industries and businesses.

Others sport fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

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