The Lake Washington sockeye counts are off to a good start at the Ballard Locks fish ladder, and while summer fishing is doubtful many are hoping these strong returns will boost populations in the near future.
Through June 13, 5,202 sockeye have been counted that are headed for tributaries such as the Cedar River and other smaller creeks in Lake Washington.
“I’m optimistic there might be more sockeye than predicted,” said Pat Pattillo, the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator. “It is such a dynamic run, and we can’t make anything of the first two days of counting.”
This summer’s forecast of 96,866 sockeye falls well short of the 350,000 spawning escapement needed before any fisheries can be considered, but this run has exceeded forecasts in past years.
Only 17 million fry entered Lake Washington from Cedar River in 2010, survivors of which would be four year old adults coming back this summer.
“We are off to a good start, the best since 2005,” said Frank Urabeck, a member of the Cedar River Council and sport fishing advocate.
“A couple of days isn’t enough to extrapolate a run,” Urabeck said. “Sockeye could be early, although what we have seen so far is encouraging.”
On Wednesday, 2,778 were counted and by Thursday it was 2,424. Just to compare, here are the first two days of counting from past years: 2006, 247 and 803 (453,543 was the final season total); 2007, 412 and 892 (69,271); 2008, 236 and 570 (33,702); 2009, 299 and 825 (22,166); 2010, 625 and 1,027; 2011, 304 and 562; and 2012, 1,633 and 2,320 (145,815).
The last time Lake Washington was open for sport sockeye fishing was 2006 when 453,543 fish returned. In 2009 the actual return dipped to a low of 22,166 sockeye.
Other dates a fishery was held included 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1996.
Last summer, 145,815 returned compared to a preseason forecast of 45,871, and more than 20-million fry were released into the lake earlier this spring.
There have been ongoing talks between state and tribal fisheries managers about lowering the minimum spawning escapement goal.
“The talks have been active, and we need to look at change and I’m supportive of it,” Pattillo said. “But, we must to make sure the scientific basis is achieved.”