Tag Archives: Chum salmon

It’s time to get out and watch the salmon

This year’s return of chum salmon to Hood Canal remains on track to break the record, coming in with four times as many fish as predicted earlier this year.

Watching salmon at Poulsbo's Fish Park Photo by Tristan Baurick
Watching salmon from a bridge in Poulsbo’s Fish Park
Photo by Tristan Baurick

Last week, I reported that the total run size for Hood Canal fall chum appeared to be about 1.4 million fish, according to computer models. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 30 (subscription). The modern-day record is 1.18 million, set in 2003. If conditions hold, this year’s run will easily exceed that.

The large Hood Canal run also is expected to provide an economic boost of some $5 million to $6 million for commercial fishers, not including fish processors and stores that sell the fish.

The forecast models are based largely on commercial harvests. Data collected since I wrote the story only tend to confirm the record-breaking run, according to salmon managers. Final estimates won’t be compiled until the end of the season.

The chum run in Central and South Puget Sound also are looking very good. The latest data suggest that the run could reach 700,000, or nearly twice the preseason estimate and well above average.

Meanwhile, the large chum runs are attracting Puget Sound’s orcas to the waters off Bainbridge Island and Seattle, as chinook runs decline in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. As I described in a story on Sunday, it has been an odd year for the whales, which may have spent most of the summer chasing chinook off the coast of Washington. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2 (subscription).

A chum salmon crosses a log weir at Kitsap Golf and Country Club. Photo by Meegan Reid
A chum salmon crosses a log weir in Chico Creek at Kitsap Golf and Country Club.
Photo by Meegan Reid

The large chum run also promises to provide some great viewing opportunities for people to watch the salmon migration in their local streams. I would direct you to the interactive salmon-viewing map that Amy Phan and I completely revamped last year for the Kitsap Sun’s website. The map includes videos describing salmon streams across the Kitsap Peninsula.

Speaking of salmon-watching, everyone is invited to Saturday’s Kitsap Salmon Tours, an annual event in which biologists talk about the amazing salmon and their spawning rituals. One can choose to visit one or both of the locations in Central Kitsap. For details, check out the Kitsap Public Utility District’s Website.

One of the locations, now named Chico Salmon Park, is undergoing a major facelift, thanks to more than 100 hours of volunteer labor over the past two weekends — not to mention earlier work going back to the beginning of the year. See the Kitsap County news release issued today.

Volunteers working on the park deserve a lot of credit for removing blackberry vines, Scotchbroom and weeds from this overgrown area. This property, which has Chico Creek running through it, is going to be a wonderful park someday after native trees and plants become established. (See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2013)

If you’re into kayaking, there’s still time to watch from the water. See Olympic Outdoors Center or check out the tips by reporter Tristan Baurick, Kitsap Sun, Oct. 21, 2013 (subscription).

Here’s my final word: If you live on the Kitsap Peninsula — or anywhere around Puget Sound — you should visit a salmon stream to learn what all the fuss is about — and be sure to take the kids.

Purse seine boats working on major chum salmon run on Hood Canal. Photo by Larry Steagall
Purse seine boats make the best of a major chum salmon run on Hood Canal last week.
Photo by Larry Steagall

Even small salmon runs can be inspiring

When it comes to salmon restoration, victories often come in small steps, one stream at a time. Never let anyone tell you that small streams don’t count.

Chum salmon return to Cooper Creek for the first time in years. / Photo by Joe Michael

One small, but inspiring, stream is Cooper Creek, which drains into the head of Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. The little stream saw its first return of chum salmon this year following a long absence because of a blockage caused by a water-diversion dam. Get the larger picture from Tad Sooter’s story in the Kitsap Sun.

Only about 10 fish came back this fall, said Wayne Daley, a biologist who assisted with the release of 15,000 fry each year over the past four years. Still, 10 fish is a start, he told me, and it’s better than most years, going back for decades.

“I’m very satisfied,” Wayne said. “I know that some folks feel we should have had a lot more fish, but it demonstrates to me that we can do projects like this. This was a wonderful educational tool.”

Given that most of the work done was by volunteers, the Cooper Creek project was not expensive. The stream is rather short, and spawning gravel is limited, but the hope is that the run can be restored without further human intervention.

“We’ll see what happens after four years of supplementation,” he said.

The 10 salmon that made it back are true survivors — from their early days, when they somehow avoided predators in the stream, to four years of swimming in the ocean, to finally avoiding fishing nets and harbor seals on the last leg of their journey back into the stream.

A harbor seal follows the chum salmon run right up to the mouth of Cooper Creek. / Photo by Joe Michael

“One thing that was fascinating was to watch when these fish first showed up,” Wayne said. “There were not only fish; there were harbor seals that followed them right up to the gas station (near the mouth of the stream).”

When I hear about harbor seals chasing salmon, I always wonder why there aren’t more transient killer whales chasing the seals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with dog salmon (chum) on the menu.

As in many streams throughout Puget Sound, volunteers have taken Cooper Creek to heart, providing a new start for a long lost salmon run.

I could make a list of small streams where groups of individuals are making a difference in adding to the mass migration of chum, coho, pink and chinook salmon, not to mention steelhead. I would enjoy it if you would pass on stories about grass-roots projects that are making a difference for salmon and other wild creatures.

Students ride the wind during salmon kayak tour

When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the changing weather would make the trip more exciting.

Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her words.

Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for Saturday. See the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Wind pushes the kayaks along, as 60 Central Kitsap High School students return to Silverdale Tuesday after watching jumping salmon. / Photos by Spring Courtright

By Spring Courtright
Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center

At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to paddle.

Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on the opportunity.

This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick change in weather.
Continue reading

Orcas hunt for chum salmon in Central Puget Sound

The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum salmon.

Southern Resident killer whales passed by Bainbridge Island on Monday.
Photo by Tad Sooter

The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal streams, as I describe in a story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of their stay depends on their success in finding the later salmon.

This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast. Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.

This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997, when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they wanted to stay that long.

On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales — Ten Years Later.”
Continue reading

Salmon managers will try to eke out fishing options

Forecasts for Puget Sound salmon runs call for lower returns this year compared to last year, but officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are emphasizing “promising” chinook fishing off Washington’s coast and Columbia River.

Each year, sport fishers line the banks of the Skokomish River as they try to catch the prized chinook salmon. / Kitsap Sun file photo

Preseason forecasts were released yesterday, launching the North of Falcon Process, which involves state and tribal salmon managers working together to set sport, commercial and tribal fisheries. Federal biologists and regulators keep watch over the negotiations to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

For a complete schedule of meetings leading up to final decisions the first week of April, go to the WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news release:

“It’s still early in the process, but we will likely have an ocean salmon fishery similar to what we have seen the last two years, when we had an abundance of chinook in the ocean but low numbers of hatchery coho.”

Continue reading

Coho, chum salmon running with high water

Salmon-watching season may be somewhat shortened this year, but recent rains have encouraged large numbers of fish to swim into streams on the Kitsap Peninsula and probably elsewhere in Puget Sound.

A coho salmon tries to leap into an outlet from the salmon-rearing ponds at Otto Jarstad Park in Gorst last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

It appears that coho and chum salmon were hanging out in saltwater waiting for adequate rains, which arrived last week. I covered the issue fairly extensively in a story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun.

Normally, the peak of the chum salmon run occurs around Thanksgiving on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula. Jon Oleyar, a biologist with the Suquamish Tribe, tells me that the salmon run is probably now on the decline, with dead and dying fish beginning to be seen today in larger numbers.

For most of this week (at least after tomorrow night), the rains will probably hold off for awhile. Check out the forecast from the National Weather Service. Drier weather could help the streams run clearer.

Salmon-watchers on the Kitsap Peninsula have seen a decline in coho in recent years, and biologists say it is probably because streamflows have become more “flashy.” More roads and other impervious surfaces carry water to the streams faster and allow for less infiltration. Losing infiltration means lower summer flows, which are important for coho, because coho remain in freshwater the first summer of their lives.

Anyway, this year we’re seeing more coho in the local streams. Jon tells me they are mainly hatchery fish, probably strays from the Suquamish Tribe’s net pens in Agate Passage. Those fish were meant to improve fishing for both tribal and sport fishers, but some got away. Whether the coho hatchery strays are beneficial or harmful to the wild runs remains a subject of debate.

Some of the best salmon-viewing spots are shown on an interactive map that Angela Hiatt and I made four years ago. See Kitsap Salmon runs. If anyone knows of other good spots with public access, please share them in the comments section.

Keeping watch for killer whales coming south

An axiom among orca observers goes something like this: When you believe you have figured out what killer whales will do, they’ll do something else.

I’ve become accustomed to writing an annual story that lets people know when chinook salmon runs are dwindling in the northern waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia and when chum salmon runs are beginning to build up in South Puget Sound.

It happens in the fall, and it generally means that our Southern Resident orcas will begin checking out the buffet table in areas from Whidbey Island to Tacoma and occasionally as far south as Olympia. During this time, ferryboat riders aboard the Kingston, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and Vashon Island ferries begin seeing the whales more frequently.

It appears that the table is now set and waiting for the whales, but that doesn’t mean they’ll show up for dinner on time, as I describe in a story I wrote for yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

Lots of people reported seeing the orcas last week, when they were spotted from all the usual ferries, including some rare sightings on the Mukilteo run. The video on this page was taken at Point Robinson on Vashon Island and shows how exciting it can be to watch whales from the shore.

Although the Southern Residents showed up in South Sound only twice in October, historical records reveal that as long as chum are around, the whales — most notably J Pod — can be expected to return through December. One analysis of whale movements was conducted as part of a tidal energy project for the Snohomish County Public Utility District. See Marine Mammal Pre-Installation Study (PDF 12.9 mb). (Note the large file.)

While the Southern Residents are known to eat chum in the fall, there is no doubt that their preferred prey is chinook salmon, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. How to make sure the orcas are getting enough chinook to eat is part of a major study effort now under way, including a series of workshops about the effects of salmon fishing on the killer whales.

A report of the first workshop, held Sept. 21-23, contains an incredible amount of scientific information related food availability and the value of different salmon to our local orcas. Check out this page: Evaluating the Effects of Salmon Fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Streamflows are creating good conditions for salmon

It appears that our summer and fall weather around Puget Sound has been very good for chum salmon.

A chum salmon navigates its way upstream in Chico Creek past new weirs installed at Kitsap Golf and Country Club.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

I’m getting reports that good numbers of chum are swimming up into sections of streams where they have not been seen for years. This means that conditions are ripe for watching salmon. Check out our salmon-watching map of the Kitsap Peninsula, and read my latest reports in the Kitsap Sun and Watching Our Water Ways. Also, Kitsap Visitor and Convention Bureau has created a special website for visitors who want to see salmon.

Jon Oleyar, who counts salmon in the East Kitsap streams for the Suquamish Tribe, offered the example of Johnson Creek, which flows into Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay.

“These chum were thick from the mouth all the way up,” Jon told me after checking out the stream this week. “There was decent flow, and I was amazed to see them all the way up.”

Reports of unusual numbers of salmon have been coming in from other streams as well, including Strawberry Creek, a small, heavily impacted stream that flows through Silverdale.

Most of these salmon appear to be coming in much earlier than normal, Oleyar said.
Continue reading

Salmon-watching should be our Northwest sport

Take me out to the salmon stream,
Take me away from the crowd.
Buy me nothing, not even a snack;
I don’t care if I never get back.


Forgive me for twisting around baseball’s sacred song, but it just popped into my head as I prepared to write about salmon. Specifically, I was thinking about how much I enjoy taking my kids — and now my grandkids — out to watch salmon spawning in our local streams.

Of course, fishing with a fly or even bait brings a different level of excitement. But there’s something special about standing quietly at the edge of a stream to avoid spooking the migrating salmon. If you are able to get the kids to calm down, you might even see a female chum salmon scooping out a depression in the gravel while one or more males circle around and try to get close.

Year after year, I write a story about the annual chum migration, encouraging people to go out to their local streams to watch the magnificent fish unique to our part of the world. This year’s story was published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

In Kitsap County, Chico Creek is always a pretty good bet to see fish. This year, Kitsap County officials opened access to a new fish-viewing park just south of Golf Club Road. A couple of new trails provide both a high- and low-viewpoint to the creek.

If you wait until late in the year, you may still see chum salmon in Gorst Creek at Otto Jarstad Park just outside of Belfair. I like to remind people that if visitors come into town at Christmas, it’s a good time to expose them to the wild side of Washington state.

The interactive salmon map on the Kitsap Sun’s website also includes a few streams in Mason County, but I’d like to compile a list of good salmon-viewing streams throughout Puget Sound.

For one, there’s Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail south of Shelton, which will open to the public on Saturday, Nov. 6. The trail will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends in November, as well as Veterans Day and the day after Thanksgiving. Trained docents will be on hand to answer questions. Check out the website by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.

In Thurston County, there’s McLane Creek Nature Trail.

For King County streams, check out locations listed on the county’s Spawning Salmon Viewing website.

Likewise for Pierce County salmon viewing (PDF 1.0 mb).

If you know of other good salmon-viewing streams in the region or would like to talk about your favorite spot, feel free to add comments in the section below.

Industry dollars will operate McKernan Hatchery

Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.

The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their regular jobs. See my story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.

Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story: Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on wild salmon?
Continue reading