Issaquah hatchery could collect fewer salmon eggs as cost-cutting measure

September 27, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The unsettled economy is threatening the chinook-salmon spawning program at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has proposed reducing the number of chinook eggs collected at Issaquah and other state-run hatcheries to cut costs as the state faces a $1.4 billion shortfall.

The proposal recommends for the local hatchery to collect about 1.3 million eggs — about 1 million fewer than hatchery crews planned to collect.

“Issaquah is not a sole target in this,” said Doug Hatfield, hatchery operations manager for the region encompassing Issaquah. “This is a decision that the agency put forth to distribute this impact throughout Puget Sound and on the coast.”

Though the reduction could mean a drop in mature fish returning to Issaquah Creek to spawn in coming years, hatchery Foreman John Kugen said tending to fewer juvenile fish could improve outcomes.

See salmon during spawning season

The time is right for salmon to complete a final journey from the Pacific Ocean to Issaquah Creek and other King County streams.

Though the salmon return so far is generally smaller than the pre-spawning season forecast, opportunities abound to see migrating salmon in the Lake Washington, Cedar River and Lake Sammamish watershed as chinook, sockeye, coho and chum complete a long sojourn.

King County, Issaquah and other local governments maintain many areas along salmon-bearing streams.

Spot salmon at parks, along trails and at events sponsored throughout the Puget Sound region. In many cases, naturalists can help visitors spot the fish and learn about the salmon life cycle.

• In Issaquah, the iconic Issaquah Salmon Hatchery along Issaquah Creek offers a prime viewing opportunity. The hatchery, 125 W. Sunset Way, includes Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery volunteers on site every Saturday through Nov. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 392-8025.

• Spot salmon through October from the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond. Call 556-2845 or email Or, look for salmon in Bear Creek behind Classic Nursery, 12526 Avondale Road N.E., Redmond, on a self-guided tour. Call 882-1846 or email

• In Bellevue, the Mercer Slough fish ladder on Kelsey Creek offers daily opportunities for salmon viewing through October. Call 452-5200 or email before heading to the fish ladder.

• Friends of the Cedar River Watershed host viewing opportunities along the Cedar River near Renton on Oct. 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Call 206-245-0143 or go to

• Piper’s Creek in Seattle’s Carkeek Park is a salmon-viewing spot on weekends from Nov. 12 to Dec. 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Nov. 25 includes special activities from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 206-684-5999 or go to

• From early November through late January, head out on a self-guided tour along Issaquah’s Ebright Creek at the East Lake Sammamish Trail or Lewis Creek at 185th Place Southeast to see Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon. Call 206-263-3661 beforehand to make sure fish can be seen.

“In actuality, we probably do a better job of raising these fish,” he said. “With 2 million fish, it’s really a time-consuming job just to feed them. By the time you’re doing done feeding them, it’s time to turn around and feed them again.”

Crews snip the adipose fin of juvenile fish to distinguish hatchery salmon from wild salmon — a long and laborious process.

If the hatchery team can complete the process a month before release, the salmon can regenerate scales lost in the procedure — and improve chances for survival.

If the hatchery is tending to more juvenile fish, the process to mark the entire stock lasts longer and salmon do not receive as much time to generate lost scales.

The total estimated cost reduction from a smaller egg haul is not firm. State hatcheries spend about $22 per $1,000 to mark juvenile salmon. The cost to feed the nascent fish is also on the rise, as the global market for fishmeal — a key ingredient in salmon feed — heats up.

The hatchery collected 2.4 million eggs from 3,099 chinook last year — and beat the 2.1 million egg goal for the year. In addition, about 1,100 fish headed upstream to spawn in Issaquah Creek.

The proposed reduction does not affect planned coho egg collection at the hatchery.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to have half of the returning adults,” Kugen said. “It will probably be somewhere in between half and the full amount that we have with 2 million, because these fish will be healthier smolts going out, and they’ll be bigger, so there will be less predation on them.”

In the meantime, a reduced egg collection could mean fewer opportunities for Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery volunteers to spawn salmon.

“From what I can see, there’s absolutely no shortage of people who want to get into the tanks and help,” FISH Executive Director Jane Kuechle said. “It may mean that fewer people can do it.”

The budget gap is the chief reason for the proposed reduction, but fish managers also raised concerns about mature salmon raised at the Issaquah hatchery migrating to the Cedar River. The fish native to the river and the Issaquah salmon spawn — a possible problem because the population in the river is distinct.

“When these two populations would interact, at least on a genetic level, we would like to see them remain separate,” Hatfield said. “When we get a percentage of fish from Issaquah that are migrating into the Cedar, the genetic impacts associated with that are of concern.”

Still, the budget gap remains the No. 1 reason the state proposed a reduction in chinook egg collection, he added. (Gov. Chris Gregoire called state legislators to Olympia after Thanksgiving for a special session to address the shortfall.)

“You cut your program in half, you expect to see less fish return, certainly,” Hatfield said. “There are obvious impacts associated with that.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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2 Responses to “Issaquah hatchery could collect fewer salmon eggs as cost-cutting measure”

  1. State Budget cutting options for environnment « Olympic Peninsula Environmental News on September 28th, 2011 9:33 am

    […] State Budget cutting options for environnment Posted on September 28, 2011 by alf hanna Yet to be determined is how the next round of state budget cuts will affect public programs. Two-thirds of the $35 billion state budget is restricted so the cuts have to come from the $10 billion available. One proposal from the state Fish and Wildlife Department would direct state-run hatcheries to cut costs by collecting less Chinook salmon eggs. Issaquah hatchery could collect fewer salmon eggs as cost-cutting measure…  […]

  2. Jane Kuechle on September 28th, 2011 1:33 pm

    In response to an email on this same subject, WDFW Hatcheries Division Manager, Heather Bartlett said, “As you may be aware, the economic climate of the state is in unprecedented times economically. The department has had to implement reductions in production immediately, such as Issaquah, as well as propose additional reductions that may need to be implemented in the future to save state money. In the case of Issaquah, we are implementing a 1 million fish reduction from the current program of 2 million. This reduction, although catalyzed by need to save funding, was chosen because of the general excess of hatchery fish that return beyond the needs of the natural spawners and the hatchery broodstock. In addition, the reduction helps reduce the stray level of this program into the Cedar River chinook population, which better aligns the program with our Fish and Wildlife Commission policy on hatchery reform. It is possible if funds were available from other sources that some or all of the 1 million could be reinstated, but we would want to ensure such reinstatement was at a level or in a manner that we didn’t perpetuate a surplus of hatchery fish back to Issaquah or strays to the Cedar River.”

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