Gorst salmon hatchery releases brood

A juvenile chinook makes its way into Gorst Creek from the hatchery ponds at the Gorst rearing facility.  - Courtesy Photo
A juvenile chinook makes its way into Gorst Creek from the hatchery ponds at the Gorst rearing facility.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

t New alarm system helps the chinook raised nearby get a chance to swim to the Sound.

While nearly all of the chinook salmon scheduled for release from the Gorst Hatchery in 2006 were killed by a combination of bad weather and vandalism, staff this year were happy to report that this year’s release was much more successful.

“We’re so thrilled to have such a healthy brood this spring, which will begin to return in 2010 as three-year-olds,” said Jay Zischke, the Suquamish tribe’s fisheries manager, explaining that over the past two months, 1.8 million juvenile chinook have been released from the hatchery and into Gorst Creek.

“With this many fish being sent into Puget Sound,” he said, “it bodes well for both tribal and non-tribal fishing opportunities in the future.”

In May of 2006, approximately 1.6 million fall chinook salmon fry were found dead at the rearing facility, a situation scientists said was caused by the heavy wind and rain that battered the hatchery.

At the time, Zischke said the wind and rain likely washed debris over the water intake screens at the hatchery, blocking the flow of water and depriving the young fish of fresh, oxygenated water.

To make matters worse that year, three months later the hatchery was vandalized and another 100,000 salmon were killed.

Only 130,000 were eventually released, “meaning returns in 2009 will be dismal,” the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission stated.

The hatchery is operated through a joint effort by the Suquamish Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the city of Bremerton and volunteer efforts by the Kitsap Poggie Club.

Begun in 1982, the program is designed to give all anglers in the area an opportunity to catch the salmon, which are released each year about this time when they are a few months old.

About three or four years later, the fish return to freshwater to spawn, although many are caught before returning to the hatchery. Those that do make it back to the fish ladder are captured, studied, then eventually donated as food.

“We give all the fish to local food banks,” said Ray Frederick, a member of the Kitsap Poggie Club, explaining that first the adult fish are checked for a “coded wire tag” that may have been inserted in their head.

About 10 percent of the hatchery fish are embedded with the tiny tags, nearly invisible to the naked eye, that serve much the same function as a pet ID tag.

“If we find a tag, we can send it off to Olympia, where they can read the tag and tell us where the fish was released,” he said, explaining that each hatchery gets a different set of tags to use on their fish.

The club also helped with releasing this year’s brood of salmon, who were all fin clipped for identification as hatchery fish, and benefitted from the tribe’s upgraded alarm system, which was installed after the devastating fish kills in 2006.

“The Gorst facility,” Zischke said, “is one of the largest fall chinook-rearing facilities in the region and is a significant contributor to Central Sound fall chinook.”

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