The Lake Washington sockeye returns are still soaring well above the preseason expectations.
Through Wednesday, July 4, the inseason count is now up to 78,940, and the single-day count on that day was the highest so far this season at 9,600. The preseason forecast was 45,871.
“What this update means we don’t know yet, but it is still good news no matter how you slice it,” said Frank Urabeck, a sport fishing advocate and Cedar River Council member.
Many are saying it is unlikely we’ll get a fishery this summer in the huge urban watershed, but it’s good to see a huge increase after returns in recent years bottomed out to dismal numbers. Some are predicting the return will be around 150,000 or more.
Usually peak counts vary each year, but occurs between July 7 and July 15.
“Every year since 2007 to 2011 we’ve hit the 50 percent mark of the run before July 7, and the only year it didn’t happen was 2006,” Urabeck said. “This is something like hanging in space, and then gravity will pull it down, but this (last single day) number is pretty incredible.”
The single-day counts are: 1,633 fish on June 12; 687 on June 13; 532 on June 14; 2,183 on June 15; 3,062 on June 16; 1,724 on June 17; 1,515 on June 18; 2,241 on June 19; 6,421 on June 20; 3,548 on June 21; 1,839 on June 22; 1,883 on June 23; 4,100 on June 24; 5,823 on June 25; 1,780 on June 26; 3,730 on June 27; 5,080 on June 28; 2,784 on June 29; 6,529 on June 30; 1,942 on July 1; July 2, 4,539; July 3, 5,765; and July 4, 9,600.
Those monitoring the returns say the majority of sockeye are made up of bigger wild five-year-old sockeye. When these fish were in the freshwater environment they encountered decent water conditions and no major flooding, which probably led to a stronger survival rate. Add to that good ocean conditions when they migrated out.
During this same time frame in 2006, the run was 81,368 sockeye, which is not too far ahead of the counts so far this summer. The bulk ended of the 2006 return ended up surging in quite later than normal. That year, 470,000 sockeye allowed an 18-day sport fishery.
Other fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.
The big urban lake has an escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye before any fisheries are considered.
Since 2006, sockeye returns have dropped close to historic lows, and the run last summer ended up at about 43,000.
Back in 2009, the sockeye fry entered the lake in low numbers so this summer’s adult return wasn’t expected to be that good.
One positive factor is these fish could be reaping benefits from an excellent ocean and freshwater conditions.
The new permanent hatchery on the Upper Cedar River just below Landsburg Dam can produce more than 34-million fry, but last year it only got 25 percent of that figure from spawned adult sockeye. A run above 100,000 this summer could raise the bar in production number of spawning fish at the new facility.
(Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff reporter)