Around 25,000 young steelhead escaped from the Tokul Creek Hatchery, a tributary of the Snoqualmie River, during a break-in and some believe this could be a retaliation toward a recently announced big cutback of the hatchery steelhead program in the Puget Sound region rivers.
The break-in comes on the heels of an agreement between state Fish and Wildlife and the Wild Fish Conservancy of Duvall that will lead to a drastic cut in the number of winter steelhead released into local rivers.
Nearly one million young steelhead were to be released in spring. They are raised in nine Puget Sound hatcheries and constitute about two-thirds of all hatchery steelhead production.
Under the new agreement the state will release 180,000 young steelhead into the Skykomish river watershed only this spring and again in 2015. The remaining steelhead would be released into lakes that don’t feed into any rivers.
During the break-in, vandals cut the locks on the fence and opened the gates to the holding ponds run by state Fish and Wildlife, allowing the fish to freely move into the creek. It wasn’t discovered until Tuesday morning when hatchery personnel arrived for work.
The conservancy group said in federal court that the hatchery fish program hampers recovery of wild steelhead, violating the Endangered Species Act.
An investigation into the break-in is ongoing, and private security groups have been hired to monitor local state hatcheries to prevent further incidents.