WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

February 25, 1997
Contact:

  • Trout Unlimited, Frank Urabeck, (206)838-4743
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,Tim Waters (206)775-1311, ext. 119
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Patricia Graesser, (206)764-3750

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Trout Unlimited volunteers to help capture wild steelhead at Ballard Locks for breeding

SEATTLE -- Volunteers from Trout Unlimited (TU) will team up with state and federal officials here for a project aimed at bolstering the beleaguered Lake Washington wild steelhead run.

In coming weeks, members of the non-profit conservation group will work with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees to capture a small number of steelhead as the fish attempt to make their way through the locks and into the Lake Washington basin to spawn.

Once the fish have been mated at a hatchery, eggs from the females will be incubated. After about a year in the hatchery, the young fish, or smolts, will be released into the northern tributaries of Lake Washington where wild steelhead have disappeared or nearly disappeared.

"We're pleased that members from our organization can play a role in rebuilding this historically important and unique wild steelhead run," said Frank Urabeck, who serves as Trout Unlimited's representative for the project.

"While this certainly should not be seen as the panacea for the problems facing this fish run, it may serve as an important tool for enhancing and restoring it, particularly in streams like Issaquah Creek where the fish are almost gone," Urabeck said.

WDFW officials said the project was a short-term effort geared towards reversing the steady decline in recent years of the once-thriving steelhead run. Predation of the fish by sea lions, and the destruction or alteration of the steelhead's natural habitat are believed to be the major causes for the decline.

"We're hoping this project will increase the steelhead population in order to maintain a genetically healthy stock," said Bruce Crawford, the assistant director in charge of the Fisheries Program at the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We see the program as a temporary measure to rescue a very troubled wild fish stock," Crawford added. "While the plan is to capture wild steelhead for brood purposes for perhaps the next five years, the effort could be halted beforehand if it is determined enough steelhead are returning on their own for spawning purposes."

The project will utilize a trap built by Corps of Engineers workers and placed in the fish ladder. TU volunteers at the locks essentially will serve as observers, watching for wild steelhead attempting to make it through the fish ladder. When they spot a wild fish, the trap will be tripped and the fish will be carefully taken to a temporary floating facility designed and built by TU. From there the fish will be taken by WDFW to a hatchery for spawning.

Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said they hope the project produces 10,000 smolts to stock in northern Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish tributaries. To accomplish this, an estimated 10 males and 10 females must be captured, they said.

All the released smolts will be marked with clipped fins or in some other way so they can be identified by biologists. Those that return as adults in subsequent years will be allowed to spawn naturally.

The steelhead typically begin returning to the Lake Washington basin in December. The run usually peaks in March, but fish continue to return until May.

In 1983, biologists estimated that 2,575 steelhead returned to the basin to spawn. In 1994, 70 fish returned, and last year 234 made it into the basin. Most of those fish spawned in the Cedar River, where the best steelhead habitat exists.

Biologists estimate 650 to 700 fish need to return to the basin to spawn each year just to maintain the run's genetic integrity.

In recent years, state and federal officials, the tribes, commercial and recreational fishers and animal rights groups have worked together to find ways to bolster the number of returning wild steelhead.

Last year, three sea lions known to be heavy consumers of the fish were captured and sent to a Florida marine park. And the Corps of Engineers recently installed special underwater lights in the entrance pool of the lock's fish ladder in an effort to make it easier for steelhead to see the ladder. The fish are more susceptible to being eaten by sea lions when they do not use the ladder to pass through the locks. Besides the Corps of Engineers and Trout Unlimited, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Indian tribes, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Seattle Water Department and the Green River Trout Club have played a role in the project.