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.

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