SEATTLE– State and tribal biologists stationed at the Ballard Locks are tracking sockeye salmon returning to Lake Washington, to determine whether numbers will be high enough to open a popular recreational fishery for the first time in four years.
If there is a sport fishery it probably would open by July 15. The sockeye fishery would not occur if it would be detrimental to recovery efforts for Puget Sound chinook salmon, which are under federal protection as a threatened species.
Returning adult sockeye, bound for the Cedar River and other streams feeding the lake, are being counted through the end of July by the Muckleshoot Tribe and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), co-managers of the fish.
At least 350,000 adult fish must be allowed to spawn for a healthy run to be maintained. Reliable estimates of the run size cannot be made until a significant portion of the run has entered the lake. Typically, that occurs by July 10, although the date varies if the run is early or late. At that point, the cumulative count of returning fish will be tallied, and a decision will be made whether to open the sport fishery.
The last Lake Washington sockeye fishery was in 1996. The fishery is believed to be the largest urban salmon fishery in the country, due to the lake's location in the heart of the heavily populated Seattle metropolitan area.
Because of intense interest among sport fishers, WDFW is posting daily counts of returning sockeye on its website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/sockeye/ on the Internet. To see the fish, visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, where state and tribal biologists are counting the returning fish through a window in the fish ladder and monitoring fish in the locks' chambers.
The numbers of returning fish vary from day to day, depending on tides, boat traffic and weather conditions, according to Jim Ames, WDFW's program manager for pink, chum and sockeye salmon. The fish generally come through the locks in higher numbers on overcast days, and when boat traffic is lighter, he said.
The total Lake Washington sockeye run size fluctuates widely from year to year due to stream flooding, weather and ocean conditions.
About one-third of this year's returning sockeye are artificially produced in the Landsburg Supplementation Facility on the Cedar River.