A planned fish hatchery on the Skykomish River will use fish collected near Sunset Falls, seen here in 2014, near Index. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

A planned fish hatchery on the Skykomish River will use fish collected near Sunset Falls, seen here in 2014, near Index. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

New hatchery on Skykomish to end practice of importing fish

A plan to capture fish from Sunset Falls near Index and release them in the river is open for public comment.

INDEX — A planned fish hatchery on the Skykomish River near Index will end the practice of importing steelhead trout from the Columbia River and rely instead on native stock.

Using local fish helps maintain the genetic diversity of steelhead in the Skykomish, state Department of Fish and Wildlife project coordinator Jim Scott said.

A draft environmental assessment for the hatchery is available for public comment through March 8.

“A lot of times the local people have more knowledge about an area,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fish biologist Emi Melton said. “We do a public comment period to make sure we didn’t miss anything.”

The hatchery is intended to boost numbers for steelhead in the Skykomish. The native stock has dwindled to roughly 80 to 90 fish in the North Fork Skykomish and about 100 to 200 in the South Fork.

Last year also brought record-low counts of the fish on the Sultan River.

The hatchery will be co-managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tulalip Tribes.

“Using local natural-origin fish limits any potential negative impacts to wild fish on the river,” Scott said. “It’s a new path forward for our steelhead programs in the region.”

The new program will collect fish near Sunset Falls to use in the hatchery. The goal is to bolster steelhead numbers in the Skykomish, Melton said.

If all goes according to plan, the hatchery should open in mid-April.

A hatchery is just one step in helping steelhead recover, Scott said. Fish habitat in the the river and along its banks also needs to be improved.

“Hatchery programs help us,” he said. “But long-term we’re not going to be able to have (steelhead) in the Skykomish if we don’t maintain and improve our habitat.”

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