For more than 40 years, the Suquamish Tribe has been actively working to enhance salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest through the operation of hatcheries and rearing facilities. Each year, facilities operated by Suquamish release nearly 3 million Chinook, Chum and Coho salmon.
Hatchery & Rearing Facilities
The Salmon Enhancement program provides the salmon brood stock necessary to restore and/or expand salmon runs within the Suquamish usual and accustomed fishing areas, with emphasis on East Kitsap County. The primary goal is to provide salmon for Tribal fisheries through two elements: (1) restore naturally spawning chum and coho populations, and (2) provide hatchery chinook and coho for harvest without impacting listed species or other weak wild salmon stocks. Staff members operate and maintain two brood stock hatcheries, one marine net pen facility, a second net pen facility operated jointly with the Muckleshoot Tribe, and 14 satellite facilities.
Fish biologists at the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery have harvesting salmon down to more than just science. After 40 years in operation, the work of gathering and tracking spawning salmon returning to their home waters is akin to a symphony of sorts.
The Grovers Creek Hatchery releases approximately 500-thousand Chinook and 250-thousand Chum salmon into the wild each year. The differences in salmon species are more complex than most realize. “Some types of salmon need lake water during their life cycle, others need streams and riverbeds. It’s almost as if there is a salmon for every type of waterway you can find,” said retired Suquamish Tribe Marine Fish Program Manager Jay Zischke.
One of the main differences between Chum and Chinook at Grover’s Creek, is their time of return each year. During the months of September and October, the Chinook salmon, commonly known as King salmon, can be found jumping over one another, through the small stream opening to the hatchery lakes just off Miller Bay Road near Indianola. Approximately two-thousand Chinook return annually. As October turns to November, more and more of the fish returning are Chum, smaller than Chinook but with the widest natural geographic and spawning distribution of any Pacific salmon. About fifteen-hundred of the smaller salmon return to the hatchery each year.
Grovers Creek is a vital part of the fisheries projects on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. However, the released and returning numbers at Grovers are significantly smaller than those from the Gorst complex in South Kitsap. The Gorst Hatchery, a partnership complex run by the Suquamish Tribe and the City of Bremerton, releases 1.8 million Chinook in the wild every year, along with 300-thousand of the hearty Coho variety. The Suquamish Tribe Fisheries Department tracks the return rates from both complexes every year, always with the goal of increasing the strength and numbers of returning salmon.
Northwest Tribes, including Suquamish, have learned a lot about raising fish over the last four decades. Survival rates, expected annual returns and how to increase life expectancy in marine fish populations have all been topics of study for biologists over the years.
One important factor for biologists raising fish in hatcheries is the fact that fish, just like any other living creature, have the ability to get sick and carry diseases. Without variety in fish DNA, a single illness in a hatchery fish population could eradicate that entire generation. Fish with identical DNA would also have a harder time surviving in the wild, due to the fact that they would have similar strengths and weaknesses.
One of the most significant ways to ensure the strength and numbers of hatchery salmon is to increase the variety of the DNA in those fish raised at the hatchery. When spawning fish are harvested, their eggs are fertilized to grow those planned for release in the coming years.
“We fertilize eggs in small batches, always using more than a single salmon to fertilize each batch. It helps increase the variety of DNA in the fish we raise,” said Zischke.
In addition to hatchery and rearing facilities, the Suquamish Tribe also operates the Agate Pass Sea Pens and the Elliot Bay co-op net pens near Pier 91 in Seattle. Young salmon reared in the hatcheries are transferred to the net pen facilities. The pens give the salmon additional time to grow and strengthen before being released into the wild.