Even more bad news coming for South Puget Sound salmon returns


This year’s forecasts for coho coming back to the deep South Sound show the lasting impact of poor marine survival caused by the recent Pacific Blob, a large area of warm ocean water. For example, this coming year, only 1,800 coho that originated from the Squaxin Island Tribal net pens program are expected to return.

Usually over 25,000 Squaxin net pen coho return yearly from 1.8 million released. Historically, the net pen program’s survival has been as high as 3 percent in recent decades, but has dipped down to 1.1 percent the last few years. This year, the fish produced by the program will likely only have a 0.117 percent survival rate.

And, this is because of the lasting impacts of poor marine survival caused by the blob, even though it likely died this last fall.

Coho returning this year still spent enough time in the ocean that their survival was hurt by the blob’s warm water conditions.

NOAA fisheries recently pointed out how the area of warm water in the north Pacific Ocean turned everything upside down in terms of the ocean food chain:

“When young salmon come out to sea and the water is warm, they need more food to keep their metabolic rate up, yet there is less available food and they have to work harder,” said Elizabeth Daly, an Oregon State senior faculty research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a joint program of OSU and NOAA.

“Our long-term data set contradicts the long-held assumption that salmon eat less during warm-water regimes,” Daly added. “They actually eat more. But they still don’t fare as well. When the water is warm, salmon are smaller and thinner.”

During the last two years, an unusually large, warm body of water has settled into the ocean off the Pacific Northwest that scientists have dubbed “The Blob,” which is forecast to be followed this winter by a fairly strong El Niño event. Though recent spring Chinook salmon runs have been strong due to cooler ocean conditions in 2012-13, the impact of this long stretch of warm water on juvenile fish may bode poorly for future runs.

“So far this year, we’ve seen a lot of juvenile salmon with empty stomachs,” Daly said. “The pressure to find food is going to be great. Of those fish that did have food in their stomachs, there was an unusual amount of juvenile rockfish and no signs of Pacific sand lance or krill.

“Not only does this warm water make it more difficult for the salmon to find food, it increases the risk of their own predation as they spend more time eating and less time avoiding predators,” she added.

The blob being replaced by a strong El Niño still means bad news for salmon survival.

El Niño is generally a warming of the Pacific Ocean that will likely last at least through this spring.

Last year’s returns of pink and coho salmon showed the devastating impacts bad marine survival can have on fisheries. Squaxin tribal fishers spent several frustrating weeks last fall landing fewer coho that were undersized as well.

Many of the fish we caught were about half the size of the fish we usually see. This was hard on our fishermen because for the same effort, their landings had much less value.

The Squaxin Tribe practices a protective fishing regime, focusing its efforts away from bays and harbors where wild coho congregate, fishing instead where plentiful hatchery-origin fish hang out.

Poor marine survival threatens the return of hatchery fish too, and will continue to hurt the tribe’s fishing-based economy and local sport fisheries. The Squaxin net pens program releases 1.8 million coho each year. When these fish returning as adults, they contribute to both sports fisheries through out Puget sound as well as tribal fisheries.

This decline in coho is devastating for both tribal and state-managed fisheries.

Squaxin Chinook and Coho Fishery Update

Fishing has been under way for the past few months, with what looks like a fair Chinook season and an above average coho season.  As of October 15th, our 88 licensed Tribal fishers have harvested 4,375 Chinook and 48,748 Coho.

Chinook and Coho Fish Management

This year the Budd Inlet Chinook fishery yielded 4,375 fish, below the ten-year average. Squaxin’s projected catch for Chinook is based on average catches from previous years, the predicted returning run-size to Tumwater Falls Hatchery, and the 3,500 Chinook escapement needed for the hatchery.  Escapement needs for the hatchery program were met this year. While other fisheries to the north harvest Deschutes fish, tribal and sport fisheries must contend with listed Chinook stocks of concern and are limited to a ceiling harvest rate.  Some tribes get only one to two days of fishing for their Chinook fisheries. Overall the run size was lower than expected and the Tribal fishery was down as well.

Squaxin coho catch is based on the previous year’s average harvest rates of net pen Coho. The harvest rate of Squaxin net pen Coho by Tribal fishers ranges from 94%-98%.  During the Coho fishery there are weekly in season update conference calls with the tribes and state to discuss regional catches and test fisheries from the straights and northern Salish Sea.  It is during these calls that an in-season update is made based on actual fishery results.    If a run size increases or decreases, the allocation of fish to tribes and the state change.

Squaxin Coho fisheries are unique in that the vast majority of the fish caught in 13D are net pen Coho with limited impacts on natural Coho due to the protected areas in the inlets.  By staying out of the inlets natural Coho have a better opportunity to escape into the creeks to spawn.  The Coho fishery through October 15th has harvested 48,748 Coho worth over $670,000. This is an above average outcome and suggests that there has been better ocean survival than previous years.


The results from this year’s fisheries will be used to plug back into fishery management decisions for next year. In the months of February through April, Squaxin Natural Resources takes part in the North of Falcon process, part of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.  This series of meetings gathers state, federal, and tribal fishery managers to plan Washington coastal, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. Tribal and State fisheries managers negotiate and agree on harvest impacts on forecasted returns, as well as scheduled fisheries.


Squaxin NR Sample Coho Catch


As the  2012 Squaxin coho fishery kicked off on Monday September 10th,  Squaxin Natural Resource staff starts commercial Coded Wire Tag (CWT) recovery sampling.  Using a specially designed wand to detect CWT’s, our Resource Technicians go through the commercially caught coho to recover the small tag that is implanted in to the snout of  roughly 2.5% of the coho that are released from Squaxin Net Pens.  Squaxin Net Pen Coho have a distinct CWT numbers, so we can find out when and where our fish are caught through all fisheries.  Commercial CWT recovery sampling data is a useful tool in salmon fishery management, hatcheries practices, migration timing, and stock assessment to name just a few uses.  Video of Squaxin Resource Technicians Commercial CWT Recovery Sampling (O’Connell 2009)

In the past two years Squaxin coho catches were at all time lows with 3,500 catch in ’10 and  5,200 catch in ’11.  There are some high hopes for a good coho fishery in 2012. Over the past few weeks we have been hearing good reports that the sport fishery has been very good in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and central Puget Sound.  Now we are seeing coho showing up in Peale and Pickering Passage.  It is still to early to project how well returns will be but the first four days of the fishery has been very consistent, with catches to date exceeding previous two years catches.  Current catch estimates  to September 13th are at 1,530 coho, averaging 6.85 lbs per fish.

Squaxin Coho

An estimated 41,373 Squaxin Island Net Pen coho are forecast to return in 2012, from 1.53 million net pen releases in 2011.  In the next eight weeks our Resources Technicians will sample the Squaxin commercial coho catch trying to sample at least 20% of the catch in an effort to recover CWT’s.

Michael West and Danny Snyder wand Squaxin caught coho to recover CWT's







Monitoring Health and Growth of Net Pen Coho

Each month Squaxin NR staff takes samples of coho from the net pens to monitor growth progress and fish pathology.   We select pens that are representative of the stocks we have and then seine a random sample of these pens.

All photos above taken by Sarah Zaniewski

The sample is weighed and one hundred of them are measured.   Eight fish are taken from this sample as lethal samples to be looked at by Northwest Indian Fish Commission Fish Pathologists.

Squaxin Net Pen Coho Smolt Released

Measuring and Adipose Clip quality checking a sample of Net Pen coho smolt

Measuring and Adipose Clip quality checking a sample of Net Pen coho smolt

Over the last couple of weeks Squaxin Island Natural Resources have released approximately 1.8 million coho smolt from the Net Pen facility located in Peale Passage.      “Our hope is these coho live a healthy life through out their journey   through the Puget Sound into the ocean and return back as 8 lbs adults for the 2011 Washington Sport and Tribal Fisheries,” said Will Henderson Enhancement Manager for Squaxin NR.

Joe Peters measures a sample of coho

Joe Peters measures a sample of coho

Squaxin Island Tribe and Washington Fish and Wildlife co-manage the Net Pen facility in Peale Passage.   Juvenile coho arrive to the net pens in late January at 30 fish to pound.   Staff feed these coho an EWOS diet feed for four months and then the fish are released.  Coho are released at an average of 13 fish to the pound.    The coho smolt released May 2010 will begin returning to South Puget Sound in September 2011.

Forecast for returning adult Net Pen Coho for 2010 is  33,600.

Squaxin Net Pen Inventory Video

Squaxin Net Pens – Coho Transfer Photos

Juvienle Coho in the Squaxin Net Pens

Thousands of Juvenile Coho in the Squaxin Net Pens

Above is just a snap shot of the 1.5 million coho that will be released in June 2009.  On average only 3 % of these released coho will return as adults in Fall of 2010.  That is approximately 45,000 adult coho available for harvest by Sport and Commercial fisheries in South Puget Sound.

Pictures of Coho Transfer to Net Pens on Flickr

Short Video of Coho Transfer on You Tube

Squaxin Tribe begins Transfer of Juvenile Coho to Net Pens

The Kisutch transfering coho to the Net Pens.

The Kisutch transferring coho to the Net Pens.

This week the Squaxin Island Tribe Natural Resources (SINR) and Washington State Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) started hauling the first batch of juvenile coho to the South Sound Net Pens (SSNP) located in Peale Passage.   SSNP is a co-managed facility by the SINR and WDFW that has released an average of 1.5 million coho smolt yearly to benefit  Sport and commercial fisheries through out the Puget Sound.

Offloading coho into a Net Pen

Offloading coho into a Net Pen

SINR staff will be monitoring and feeding these juvenile for the next four months;releasing them in June.   These coho are at around 31 fish per pound when they arrive and will be released at about 15 fish to the pound.   After release these coho will make the journey to the ocean feed for a year and return to the deep South Puget Sound as adult coho in the Fall of 2010.

Coho in the Net Pens

Coho in the Net Pens. Photo courtesy of Rana Brown-Shellfish

The fish arriving this week are reared at Skookumchuck Hatchery. Early next week we will be transferring fish from Wallace.     Stay tuned for more photos!