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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 26, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Lake Washington sockeye return forecast not promising this summer

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Longtime sport fishing advocate Frank Urabeck always has his ear to the ground when it comes to Lake Washington sockeye, and it is his understanding that a very low return of sockeye is expected back to the huge urban watershed once again this coming summer.

“It gives a sense where things now stand and underscores the urgent need to gain as many broodstock as possible from the 2011 sockeye returning to the Cedar River to keep the run alive,” Urabeck said to me in a recent e-mail. “I am hoping to encourage the co-managers (tribes) to minimize any take of sockeye this summer as every sockeye is needed.”

Here is an article Urabeck wrote in the Puget Sound Anglers The Reel News:

Those of you that read my article in the October issue of The Reel News are now wondering if our hope and expectation for a 2014 sockeye fishery will be realized.

Unfortunately, my assessment is no.

We took a haymaker hit by Mother Nature with the Jan. 17-18 flood that damaged sockeye redds – Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) expects that 80 to 90 percent of the eggs incubating in Cedar River gravels were lost to scouring flows that reached 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Renton gauge.

Another disappointment is that only about 10 million eggs were gained from hatchery brood stock captured mainly at the Renton Community Center fish trap. We had hoped going into fall season that we would capture enough adult sockeye to produce up to 15 million fry at the temporary sockeye hatchery that was constructed in 1991. We fell short by 6 million eggs.

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The bottom line: Only 10 to 12 million fry (9 million being hatchery produced) will enter Lake Washington from now through April, well below the 40 million likely needed to gain a fishery in 2014. State Fish and Wildlife is now monitoring through a juvenile fish trap at Renton the out migrating natural origin fry that survived the floods.

SPU did it’s best to control Cedar River flows below redd damaging levels as long as they could through flood control operation of the Masonry Dam in the upper watershed. However, to protect the lives and property of folks living in the flood plain, given the limited flood control storage capability of the dam, stormwater had to be released that drove the flows at Renton 4,000 cfs above the 2,000 cfs sockeye redd damage threshold.

I am on several SPU committees that are looking at how to gain more brood stock this fall for the new hatchery that is expected to go into operation in August. The preliminary estimate of adult sockeye passing Ballard Locks this summer is less than 50,000 as compared to 161,000 that were counted (actually estimated) last year and only 22,000 in 2009.

Around 375,000 adults are needed to allow tribal and sport fisheries (350,000 spanner escapement plus minimal harvest). The SPU committees will also be discussing how to gain better survival of juveniles in Lake Washington which has been identified as a problem due to predation and food supply competition. My message to folks is to hang in there as those of us charged with trying to save and recover the Cedar River sockeye run do the best we can.

We do have new cards to play with the new hatchery, but Mother Nature has to be helpful as well. As I noted in my October article, a lot also depends on the attitude and management decisions of state Fish and Wildlife and tribes that harvest Lake Washington sockeye. These co-managers are the major players – next to Mother Nature.

(Photos taken by Steve Ringman, The Seattle Times staff photographer and The Associated Press)

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