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Sorry State of Salmon
August 21, 2002 - In the past two years
the rainbow trout has disappeared around Puget Sound
in Seattle's backyard. The numbers of wild winter
steelhead that spawn in early June have been lower
than ever during the last two seasons. Last winter's
predictions were made stating that only 40 per cent
of the Skagit River's goal of 6,000 wild fish would
return to spawn.
Under 50 fish were thought to have
returned this year to the Cedar River. Steve Foley,
biologist for Lake Washington and the Green River,
said "It just doesn't make sense---".
No single cause has been identified,
biologists said. They suspect ocean temperatures,
which have risen, and would cause the steelhead to
migrate to a smaller feeding area. Biologists say
several steelhead runs in BC are close to extinction.
All but one of twenty five steelhead rivers and streams
between Victoria and Campbell River, on Vancouver
Island, BC, are closed to fishing because the fish
are close to extinction in the region, down to 5 and
10 percent of what they were ten and twenty years
Steelhead are hatched from eggs in
freshwater streams, in June and July, where they remain
for two years before heading to sea. In the North
Pacific they mature for up to three years before returning
to their birthplace. The most common wild steelhead
are these "winter" fish that return from
mid-March to early June. The other type of steelhead
are hatchery-bred and return at different times of
year from the wild fish - and some rivers have wild
Similar low salmon runs are seen in
the Snohomish and Stillaguamish.
Other rivers, such as the Quileute,
have adequate supplies of wild steelhead - and even
the Green River [although fewer].
Curt Kraemer, biologist, said Puget
Sound winter steelhead may have encountered warm-water
predators, such as hake or mackeral, while coastal
steelhead may have escaped these predators.
Biologists estimate that in the early
1980's there were up to 2600 wild winter steelhead
returning to the Lake Washington system and the Cedar
River. This number dropped to 48 last spring. Four
years ago about 600 fish spawned and their progeny
have not returned. Foley, the state biologist who
monitors the Cedar, said he expects only about 50
Frank Urabeck, with Trout Unlimited,
said "Most biologists will say that if you have
less than 100 fish coming back you're in trouble.
We may have to do some "extraordinary things"
to keep the run going, such as bolstering the Cedar
River population by capturing wild fish and raising
their brood in a hatchery before releasing them.
Biologists want to give the run a
chance to rebound naturally so the state has declined
to introduce hatchery fish or to mix fish from different
rivers, Foley said.
Foley, Steven, biologist, monitor of the Cedar River.
Hooton, Bob, Ministry of Water, Land & Air Protection.
Kraemer, Curt, biologist, Snohomish & Stillaguamish
Rivers. Leland, Bob, Washington Department of Fish
& Wildlife. Urabeck, Trout Unlimited.
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