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

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July 14, 1997
Contact: Tim Waters (425) 775-1311, ext. 119

Lake Washington wild steelhead to be raised at Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

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 or non-existent.

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 biologists.

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 chinook salmon.

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.