The Challenges and Strategies for Chinook Recovery: Habitat, Hatcheries & Harvest

Published: March 19, 2021
By Kate Konoski – Fisheries Program Manager

There are two populations of ESA listed “threatened species” of Chinook in the Stillaguamish River, summer-run and fall-run, distinguished by differences in migration, spawn timing, and genetic characteristics. The recovery status of both Stillaguamish summer-run and fall-run Chinook populations is critical in comparison to historic values, with estimated abundances returning to the spawning grounds have shown a significant decline since the late 1980s. Although, through hatchery production, abundances are appearing apparently stable due to hatchery supplementation beginning in 1986. There are two hatchery programs, one for summer-run Chinook program operated at the Harvey Creek facility and released from Whitehorse Ponds facility on the North Fork Stillaguamish River. The other, a fall-run Chinook program operated at the Brenner Creek facility on the South Fork Stillaguamish River. Designed for Salmon Recovery, these programs are to protect the critically depleted populations from extinction and use the returning adults containing coded wire tags to monitor fishery impacts. Release goals for 220,000 summer-run juveniles and 200,000 fall-run juveniles annually.
Degraded spawning and rearing habitat currently limit the productivity of Chinook in the Stillaguamish River system with the continuing degradation of water quantity and quality, floodplain and riparian processes, marine shoreline and habitat conditions. These habitat-limiting factors affect abundance and productivity of spawners. Lower water flows during the late summer due to increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, only exacerbated by exempt wells reduce rearing habitat and out migrating juvenile survival. Winter flooding of the river can scour redds (salmon egg nests) and gravel needed during future spawning events, leading to significant losses during the incubation period and available spawning habitat. As habitat deteriorates in diversity and complexity, it is unable to support the Chinook early life stages.
The Stillaguamish Tribe is committed to an “all H” approach, Habitat, Hatchery, Harvest — which focuses on utilizing hatchery production to stablize the populations while mitigating, conserving, and restoring salmon habitat. Harvest opportunities are limited to ceremonial fishing only, but are important for exercising the Treaty Right as affirmed by US v. Washington, also known as the “Boldt Decision”.