Fewer chinook expected to return
September 1, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
FISH spots first chinook at Issaquah hatchery
At the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, chinook is king.
Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Executive Director Gestin Suttle said the return of the first chinook is usually cause for celebration. But the festive mood could be dampened by a downsized forecast for the number of chinook.
Issaquah Salmon Hatchery workers and FISH members spotted the first chinook of the season in Issaquah Creek last week. But the good news was tempered with a stark prospect: Muckleshoot Tribe fisheries officials initially forecast 15,000 chinook salmon returns for the year, but the estimate has since been cut to 5,000 returns.
Suttle said the number was “very disappointing to say the least” and alarming. But she said the factors behind fewer chinook returns were difficult to determine. A hot, dry summer and water temperatures in Lake Washington could be behind the revised forecast.
Even so, Suttle said rain and cooler water temperatures would soon cause the salmon to begin heading up Issaquah Creek and other bodies of water.
“We will get rain eventually because it’s the Pacific Northwest,” Suttle said.
Scott Foley, a fisheries biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the return of the chinook depends on factors such as weather.
Before chinook reach Issaquah Creek and the hatchery, the salmon return to freshwater through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard. From there, the fish pass through lakes Union and Washington and into the Sammamish Slough.
Foley said the Sammamish Slough “can be a real bottleneck for them.” Chinook then enter Lake Sammamish and swim up Issaquah Creek to spawning habitat.
Hatchery and FISH representatives spotted the first fish in Issaquah Creek Aug. 24; they described the chinook as a 25-pound hen.
The salmon disappeared from view for most of the following day. Hatchery visitors clambered across a bridge over Issaquah Creek, hoping to catch a glimpse of the trail-blazing fish.
But the hen reappeared Aug. 26 near the fish ladder opening at the hatchery. The fish ladder and bypass ladder are closed, Suttle wrote in an e-mail. A jack, or juvenile male chinook, joined the hen by Aug. 31. Suttle said the jack is able to spawn.
Because the fish ladder and bypass ladder are closed, the salmon will not be able to move upstream beyond the hatchery yet.
Suttle said the arrival of the chinook sends the hatchery and FISH volunteers into overdrive. The hatchery grounds play host to dozens of school groups, docents and volunteers. She said the atmosphere turns “very active” as FISH volunteers and hatchery workers welcome visitors.
Foley said the chinook would return — eventually.
“Sooner or later, they’re going to come in no matter what,” he said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.