EVERETT, Wash. (AP) – Few of the Northwest’s struggling salmon runs are as close to extinction as the Chinook that spawn in the south fork of the Stillaguamish River.
With only 100 to 200 adult fish returning each year, some fish biologists say the population could die off at any time.
Local fish experts plan to tap into $4.5 million in salmon recovery money Snohomish County recently won from the state to make a last-ditch effort to save the fish.
The Stillaguamish Tribe plans to use about $634,000 to capture 15 to 20 male and female wild returning salmon each fall, collecting eggs and sperm before fertilizing them and letting them hatch and grow into fry at a tribal hatchery in Arlington.
”We’re in danger of losing that population,” said Tim Walls, a senior planner for Snohomish County who heads up the county’s salmon recovery efforts. ”It’s absolutely critical that we get that population back on track immediately. The work that the tribes are doing is going to help do that.”
Wild fish have never been pulled into a hatchery on the river’s south fork, but a similar strategy has worked for two decades on the north fork, where 1,500 to 1,600 Chinook return to spawn each year.
On the north fork, the Stillaguamish Tribe catches and breeds 50 to 60 wild males and females, which produce about 250,000 eggs, most of which survive and are released each May as fingerlings big enough to head out to Puget Sound, said Pat Stevenson, the Stillaguamish Tribe’s environmental manager.
If all goes well, 50,000 to 60,000 Chinook fry will be released into the south fork each year in May. Before they are let go, they will be put in pens so they can get acclimated to the river, which should help direct them back to the south fork to spawn naturally.
Snohomish County got about $4.5 million of $60 million in salmon recovery grants Gov. Chris Gregoire recently awarded, most of it tagged for habitat restoration in the Puget Sound region.
The Stillaguamish River is expected to get $3.7 million, to be spent over two years, including $1.3 million for the south fork alone. The money comes from the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and an appropriation from the Legislature.
So far, Snohomish County has received nearly $326,000 in grant money to build shelters made of giant stumps and logs so help the fish survive what can be a tough journey to sea.
The county will use another $200,000 grant to figure out what more can be done to preserve Chinook. Key needs include reducing the amount of sediment that flows into the river, robbing it of oxygen that the salmon and eggs need to survive.