Sockeye salmon
For information on sockeye and other salmon and steelhead stocks see:
Recreational Salmon Fishing
Salmonid Stock Inventory (SaSI)

Ozette Lake Sockeye Salmon
The following has been excerpted from NMFS 4(d) and NEPA review documents authored by Tim Tynan

Sockeye salmon in the Ozette Lake Basin comprise a unique stock that is genetically distinct from all other sockeye populations on the Washington coast and in Puget Sound. Mature adults return to freshwater during an extended period from spring through late summer, and spawn at two primary locations along eastern and western lakeshore areas at the southern end of the lake, and in Umbrella Creek and Big River. Post-emergent fry rear in the lake for a year before undergoing smoltification and emigrating to marine waters. The lake is highly productive and out-migrant yearling smolts are unusually large, averaging 4 ½ to 5 inches in length Smolts produced in Ozette Lake are documented as the third largest among west coast sockeye populations examined for average smolt size.

Adults of this stock return to Ozette Lake in the late spring and early summer months predominantly as four-year-old individuals. However, three- or five-year-old adult fish are occasionally observed in the return. The most recent age composition analyses revealed that 80 of 81 adult sockeye in 1994 were four-year-olds (one was a five-year-old), and 71 of 71 (100%) in 1998 were four-year-old fish.

Adult sockeye salmon hold in Ozette Lake up to six months prior to spawning. The majority of spawners at both lake beaches and in the tributaries begin spawning by late-October to early-November and complete spawning by late-November to early-December, annually. The two principle shoreline spawning areas for Ozette Lake sockeye are Olsen's Beach, located on the lake's eastern shore north of Siwash Creek, and Allen's Bay Beach, located on the lake's western shore. Mature adult sockeye salmon in Ozette Lake have also been reported near the south shore of Baby Island at the southern end of the lake, in Erickson's Bay, and on the beach north of Umbrella Creek. Historically, it is likely that sockeye salmon also spawned in tributaries to Ozette Lake, potentially including Big River, Umbrella Creek, and Crooked Creek, and in the Ozette River.

The historical abundance of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon is poorly documented. However, the overall abundance of naturally-produced Ozette Lake sockeye salmon is believed to have declined substantially from historical levels. The first estimates of escapement of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon occurred in the early 1940s, and the run sizes entering the lake were estimated at a level of several thousand fish. These counts appear to be roughly double the current mean lake abundance, considering that they were likely conducted upstream from fisheries in or near to the Ozette River. Recent year sockeye salmon escapements have averaged below 1,000 adults per year, with low years dropping to only a few hundred fish.

Chart of Lake Ozetter Sockeye salmon runsize 1977-2011

The Ozette Lake sockeye salmon population was listed as a threatened Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) under the ESA on March 25, 1999. In making this determination, NMFS concluded that the ESU was likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future if present conditions continue. NMFS also concluded that current protective efforts were insufficient to forestall the risk of extinction. The listed sockeye salmon ESU includes all naturally spawned sockeye salmon residing below impassable natural barriers in Ozette Lake and its tributaries. The sockeye salmon reared at the Makah Tribe's Umbrella Creek Hatchery were considered part of the ESU, but were not considered essential for recovery of the ESU. NMFS determined that it is presently not necessary to consider the progeny of intentional hatchery/wild or wild/wild crosses produced through the Makah Tribal hatchery program as listed under the ESA. However, once the hatchery fish return and spawn in the wild, their progeny become listed. For more information, see the Lake Ozette Sockeye ESA Recovery Plan.

There has been no harvest of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon for the past four brood cycle years (16 years). Prior to that time, in the 1970s and early 1980s, ceremonial and subsistence harvests by the Makah Tribe were low, ranging from 0 to 84 fish per year. Over the 10 years prior to the early 1970s, commercial harvests by the Makah Tribe remained minimal, averaging less than 500 fish per year. Harvest has not been an important mortality factor for the population in over 35 years. In addition, due to the early river entry timing of returning Ozette Lake sockeye salmon (beginning in late-April, with peak returns prior to late-May or mid-June), the fish are not intercepted in Canadian and U.S. marine area fisheries directed at Fraser River sockeye salmon. There are currently no known marine area harvest impacts on Ozette Lake sockeye salmon

A multitude of factors likely contributed to the current, depressed abundance status of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon. Poor marine survival caused by natural environmental fluctuations was likely an important causative factor for the population decline. However, the decline in productivity of Ozette Lake sockeye is thought to be primarily attributed to reduced area and quality of spawning and incubation habitat. It is clear that anthropogenic factors have considerably altered critical freshwater habitat, and also played an important role in the decline of the stock.

Factors responsible for the decline of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon are thought to include:

  1. loss of adequate quality and quantity of spawning habitat;
  2. predation and disruption of natural predator–prey relationships;
  3. introduction of non-native fish and plant species;
  4. past over-exploitation in fisheries;
  5. poor marine survival; and
  6. the synergistic cumulative effects of these factors.

In the tributaries and on certain lake beaches, these factors are believed to have resulted in extirpation of locally adapted spawning aggregations and of life history strategies necessary for successful spawning.

Recent run size estimates and analysis of previous estimation methods indicate that Ozette sockeye abundance may currently be relatively stable or increasing, presumably with the help of the hatchery supplementation and reintroduction program. The adult sockeye salmon return to Umbrella Creek established through Makah Tribal hatchery juvenile fish releases has contributed to overall sockeye salmon abundance in recent years. Tributary adult returns averaged more than 10% of the total run size from 1995 to 1999, and comprised approximately 50% of the large return in 2000 of 4,400 sockeye salmon. In 1999, natural-origin recruit sockeye salmon spawners were approximately 40% of the total estimated Umbrella Creek escapement of 400 fish.

Additional Reading

Dlugokenski, C.E., W.H. Bradshaw, and S.R. Hager. 1981. An investigation of the limiting factors to Ozette Lake sockeye salmon production and a plan for their restoration. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fisheries Assistance Office, Olympia, WA. 52 p.

Gustafson, R.G., T.C. Wainwright, G.A. Winans, F.W. Waknitz, L.T. Parker, and R.S.Waples. 1997. Status review of sockeye salmon from Washington and Oregon. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-NWFSC-33. 282 p.

Jacobs, R., G. Larson, J. Meyer, N. Currence, J. Hinton, M. Adkison, R. Burger, H. Geiger, and L. Lestelle. 1996. The sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka population in Ozette Lake, Washington, USA. U.S. Department. Interior, NPS Tech. Report NPS /CCSOSU /NRTR-96 /04. 140 p.

Makah Fisheries Management (MFM). 2000. Lake Ozette sockeye - hatchery and genetic management plan - Biological assessment, section 7 consultation. October 23, 2000. Prepared by Makah Fisheries Management for Bureau of Indian Affairs. Makah Indian Tribe. Neah Bay, WA. 219 p.

NMFS. 2001c. Resource management plan - ESA 4(d) Rule preliminary evaluation and recommended determination: Ozette Lake sockeye salmon resource management plan: hatchery and genetic management plan component. Draft evaluation of plan provided by the Makah Tribe (for the Bureau of Indian Affairs), and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on October 30, 2000. Sustainable Fisheries Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Region. Portland, OR. 54 p.

NMFS. 2002. Environmental assessment to analyze impacts of NMFS' determination that the Ozette Lake sockeye salmon resource management plan addresses section 4(d) limit 6 criteria and does not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of Ozette Lake sockeye salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. Draft document (May 29, 2002). Sustainable Fisheries Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Region. Portland, OR. 51 p.