TULALIP — The continuing drought in Washington state has led the Department of Fish and Wildlife to put more restrictions on salmon fishing in Tulalip.
Significantly fewer summer-run chinook are showing up in tribal and state hatcheries. Any salmon caught by anglers is one less fish that can be used for brood stock, said the Tulalip Tribes’ Mike Crewson.
Water temperatures in rivers and streams have been high for most of the summer, and now Tulalip Bay has been getting too warm for the fish, providing a barrier to migration for chinook returning to the tribes’ hatchery off Tulalip Creek.
“We don’t even know what the run size is because they’re not coming in at all,” said Crewson, who is the tribes’ salmonid enhancement scientist.
Right now there are only about 150 chinook in the tribes’ Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin Hatchery, Crewson said, far below what is needed for brood stock in the fishery. All those fish came up the tribes’ fish ladder during the few cool days last week.
“We’re about 80 percent short and we should be at 80 percent of our goal right now,” he said.
A similar situation exists at the Wallace River Hatchery near Gold Bar, with just 600 chinook at the hatchery.
The Skykomish River, of which the Wallace is a tributary, is low and warm, said Fish and Wildlife biologist Jenni Whitney, and the take so far is about 50 percent of what’s needed, when the department should have taken 60 percent by this time.
“We’ve had a really hard time getting fish back to the hatchery this year,” Whitney said.
The goal is to capture about 3,500 fish between the two hatcheries, Crewson said, to produce about 4.8 million eggs.
When there is a shortfall in egg production, the tribes and state have an agreement in which the state gets the first 1 million eggs, the tribes get the next 800,000, and any remainder is split between the two.
New rules issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife specify that fishing for chinook in the “Tulalip Bubble,” a saltwater fishing zone just outside the mouth of Tulalip Bay, is now catch-and-release only.
That restriction will remain when the regular salmon season opens Saturday, said Ryan Lothrop, the Puget Sound recreational fishery manager for Fish and Wildlife.
“Until we get fish in both hatcheries or conditions improve we’re likely going to stay that way,” Lothrop said.
The regular catch limits of two coho and two pink salmon per day will still apply throughout the Port Gardner and Port Susan fishing area.
Summer-run chinook spawn in the fall, so there’s a three-month period in which returning adult fish need to stay alive either in major rivers or in hatcheries, Crewson said.
The drought has been especially harsh on fish this year. Warm water temperature and low flows in area rivers have left normally shady banks dry, and fewer deep pools are available for migrating salmon to hole up in before they spawn.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s water level gauge on the Skykomish River near Gold Bar recorded flows of 432 cubic feet per minute Wednesday.
That’s a record low for that date and 80 percent lower than the average for that date of 2,180 cubic feet per minute.
Fishing in the Skykomish River already has been restricted this year, as it has in nearly 40 other rivers and streams in the state.
The water temperature near the Wallace River Hatchery was up in the low 70s before a brief rainy spell came through last week, Whitney said.
It’s now dropped into the low 60s, but another warm stretch is expected this weekend, she said.
Those conditions are stressful to the fish. In warm water they’re more susceptible to diseases caused by the saprolegnia fungus or the columnaris bacteria. Because the fish are less mobile, they’re also at greater risk of predation.
While there hasn’t been a major fish die-off in Western Washington, the outlook for this summer doesn’t look good, said Bruce Stewart, the fish health program manager for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
“I think everyone’s more worried for that happening in August or September in Puget Sound,” Stewart said.
“Puget Sound river systems are definitely being stressed to the max,” he added.
At the Tulalip hatchery, the tribes are dealing with both rising water temperatures and a shortage. They have two ponds for juvenile coho salmon, but only enough water for one. They’re now recycling water. Returning chinook are being kept in a separate location.
“Right now I’m running an emergency water line 1,000 feet from some wells that are not in use by our utilities department,” Crewson said.
“We’re doing anything we can to maximize the survival to get to the egg take,” he said.