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Weather blamed for hatchery deaths

Approximately 1.6 million fall Chinook salmon fry were found dead at the Gorst Creek salmon-rearing facility Wednesday morning, a situation scientists believe was caused by the heavy wind and rain that battered the hatchery Tuesday night.

Fish pathologists ran tests on samples of the dead baby Chinooks to make sure a virus or other disease was not responsible for the deaths. 

Although results are still pending, they believe the most likely cause was the loss of adequate oxygenated water to the rearing ponds.

According to Jay Zischke, Suquamish fisheries manager, the 8-month-old fish, approximately four inches long, were scheduled to be released next week.

Zischke believes heavy wind and rain washed debris over the water intake screens at the hatchery, blocking the flow of water.

“The lack of fresh, oxygenated water in a pond with this many fish, even for just a few hours, can be devastating,” Zischke said.

Crews from the Suquamish Fisheries Department responded early Wednesday morning and are continuing the cleanup effort. Once the dead fish are removed, technicians can better assess how many of the juvenile Chinook survived.

The Gorst facility is a partnership between the Suquamish Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the city of Bremerton and volunteer efforts by the Kitsap Poggie Club.

Since the program began in 1982, returning adult fish from releases such as the planned Chinook release next week, have provided fishing opportunities for Indian and non-Indian anglers alike.

The significant mortality on Wednesday is expected to result in a much reduced return of Chinook to Sinclair Inlet in 2010, when this group of fish would be expected to return.

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