SEATTLE -- For the second year in a row, volunteers from Trout Unlimited (TU)
have teamed up with state and federal officials in an effort aimed at reversing the
decline of the 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 the fish as they attempt to make their way
through the Ballard 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 will be released into
northern Lake Washington tributaries where wild steelhead once thrived but have now
disappeared or nearly disappeared.
Last year, 10 female and 14 males were captured for breeding purposes, and an
estimated 40,000 offspring were released. This year, workers are hoping to capture a
total of 15 females and 10 males for breeding purposes.
WDFW officials said that the project is a short-term effort geared towards
reversing the steady decline of the steelhead run and maintaining its genetic health.
Predation of the fish by sea lions, as well as the destruction or alteration of the
steelhead's natural habitat, are both major reasons why the species has declined.
"The intent of this project is to jump start the natural, self-sustaining run of
steelhead in Lake Washington's northern tributaries," said Frank Urabeck, who serves
as TU's representative on the project.
"At one time maybe a decade ago, there were several thousand naturally
spawning steelhead in these tributaries," Urabeck added.
The wild 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, state fisheries biologists estimated that 2,575 steelhead returned to the
basin to spawn. Eleven years later, in 1994, only 70 fish returned. Biologists estimate
650 to 700 fish need to return to the basin to spawn each year just to maintain the
steelhead run's genetic integrity.
The project now under way utilizes a trap that has been placed in the locks' fish
ladder. TU volunteers will monitor the trap, tripping it when a wild steelhead attempts to
make its way through the ladder. Captured fish will then be taken to a nearby hatchery
The Muckleshoot Indian tribe and Seattle Water Department also are
participating in the project.