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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 ago.

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 summer runs.

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 fish.

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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