ISSAQUAH -- The Issaquah Salmon Hatchery this month will begin raising
steelhead for the first time in more than half a century of operation.
After decades of raising salmon, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
(WDFW) workers will begin using it to rebuild the beleaguered Lake Washington wild
steelhead run, perhaps the most infamous fish stock in the state.
At least 10,000 recently-hatched wild steelhead will be brought to the facility to
be raised for eventual release into the Lake Washington basin. The fish are the
progeny of wild adult steelhead captured earlier this year as they attempted to swim
through the Ballard Locks and into the basin to spawn.
"This marks the first time this particular hatchery has been used in an attempt to
help us rebuild one of the state's wild fish runs," said WDFW Director Bern Shanks.
"This clearly expands the hatchery's mission in our overall fish management strategies
for the Lake Washington watershed."
The plight of the Lake Washington wild steelhead has been well documented.
Over the years, the run has dwindled to precarious levels as returning steelhead have
been intercepted at the locks by hungry sea lions. Destruction and alteration of the
steelhead's habitat also has contributed to the stock's troubles.
In an attempt to maintain the steelhead's genetic health and bolster its run size,
WDFW biologists, assisted by Trout Unlimited volunteers and the U.S. Corps of
Engineers, last winter and spring captured 14 adult males and 10 adult females. The
fish were hauled to a hatchery, mated and the females' eggs incubated.
By hatching the eggs artificially and then raising the fish in a hatchery for a year,
biologists expect to produce more steelhead than would have hatched and survived
under natural conditions. Biologists also plan to plant some of the fish in the northern
tributaries of Lake Washington where in recent years wild steelhead have been scarce
Lake Washington wild steelhead may be captured for breeding purposes for the
next four years or so, although the effort could be halted early if it is determined
enough steelhead are returning on their own for spawning purposes, according to
Kathy Hopper, who oversees WDFW hatchery operations in the northern Puget
Sound area, said a total of 40,000 progeny of the captured adult steelhead will be
raised at the Issaquah Hatchery and Palmer Ponds, another WDFW hatchery located
in southeast King County.
After a year in the hatchery, the young fish, or smolts, will be released into the
Lake Washington basin. All the released fish will be marked with clipped fins or in
some other way so they can be identified by biologists. Those that return in subsequent
years will be allowed to spawn naturally, Hopper said.
"We're hopeful that this project is just the first of several at the Issaquah facility
that will focus on enhancing Lake Washington wild fish runs," Hopper said. "The plans
we have to improve the water quality at the hatchery should allow us to move forward
with our goals in coming years."
In addition to the plans to improve water quality, other changes are in the works
for the hatchery, which in 1996 was used to raise approximately six million coho and
Last spring, the Legislature and Gov. Gary Locke approved a new state
construction budget that calls for nearly $3 million in renovations for the facility, which
hosts more visitors each year than any other hatchery in the state. Last year, an
estimated 300,000 people visited the hatchery.
Steve Bell, executive director of the non-profit volunteer group Friends of
Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) , predicted that the young Lake Washington wild
steelhead will attract the attention of hatchery visitors. FISH provides tours and other
educational services at the hatchery.
"Given all the attention this steelhead run has received over the years, we would
expect these fish to be of great interest to the many people who pay us a visit," Bell
said. "The fish certainly will be honored guests here."
EDITOR NOTE: The young steelhead are scheduled to be delivered at the
hatchery at 11 a.m. July 16. The hatchery is located at 125 W. Sunset Way, Issaquah.