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Clear Days for Hood Canal Summer Chum
Photo Credit: USFWS
In the early 1990s, the disappearance of a beautiful fish from the rivers of Washington’s Hood Canal and Straits of Juan de Fuca got the attention of natural resource managers. After monitoring the area’s summer chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) stocks for decades, biologists saw sharp declines and even possible extinction in this unique species. “We knew we needed to do something – and quickly,” says Thom Johnson, a district biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Seven of the 16 recognized summer chum stocks had disappeared, and seven of the remaining stocks were at high risk of extinction. To change the tide of what might have been disastrous, State and Tribal resource managers and a cadre of volunteer groups and non-profit organizations set to work rebuilding and protecting the chum stocks through activities over which they had immediate control: harvest and hatcheries.
The group operated on the premise that harvest and hatcheries would work to preserve the populations in the short-term, but ultimately, habitat would have to be restored to regain healthy, self-sustaining chum populations.
Starting in 1992, all commercial fisheries in the area were restricted to ensure that summer chum would account for no more than an incidental fraction of the total harvest.
Managers then identified fish hatcheries as the means to bolster remaining native stocks by increasing the survival of eggs and fry above levels attainable in the wild. Hatchery programs were also used to reintroduce the species into streams where the native summer chum stocks had gone missing.
Dave Zajak, Tom Kane, and Larry Telles of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Quilcene National Fish Hatchery were among the first to realize how dire the situation was and took steps that made a crucial difference.
Volunteer organizations such as Wild Olympic Salmon, North Olympic Salmon Coalition, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, and Long Live the Kings – with help from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – reintroduced wild summer chum into several historical streams. “Many great people who cared about summer chum came forward to help,” says Tim Tynan of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “If it hadn’t been for their efforts, the fish could have winked out.”
After boosting the abundance of summer chum in Salmon Creek, Wild Olympic Salmon and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition collaborated with WDFW to reintroduce summer chum into Chimacum Creek. These efforts increased the annual return from zero to 2,000 wild adult fish.
While habitat for these fish remains in need of restoration, the thousands of adult fish that now return each year bought the chum much needed time in their journey to recovery.
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