ARLINGTON — They caught 81 smolts.
Thirty-six of those juvenile chinook died.
There are 45 fish left.
Stillaguamish tribal biologists are planning DNA tests for each fingerling to determine whether they are male or female, and whether they are members of a dwindling community: the Stillaguamish River’s south fork chinook strain.
If the fish are of the strain, and if there is a sufficient male-to-female ratio and if the biologists can keep each fish alive for at least three years in a high-tech controlled environment, there may be a chance for the genetically unique south fork chinook strain to survive.
“We have to keep these guys alive,” said Charlotte Schofield, a technician with the Stillaguamish Tribe’s Natural Resources Department.
Tribal biologists estimate that the run has about 100 fish. Environmental damage in spawning areas has made it nearly impossible for the fish to procreate. Tribal fisheries experts tried last year to capture some of the chinook as they returned upriver in order to help them spawn in a safe area, but so few fish returned that the project couldn’t move forward. The last option for the strain is for experts to catch the fish as smolts — shortly after they leave the spawning grounds and move toward saltwater.
Scofield and others used beach seines between January and June to find and capture the fingerlings. Now, the fish are in what Scofield calls a “fish condo” — a highly controlled facility. It will be three to four years before the fish are old enough to spawn. Hopefully, Scofield said, that process will kick-start the flailing strain.
If the plan doesn’t work, Scofield said, the strain is expected to die off.
Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422, firstname.lastname@example.org.