The Squaxin Island Tribe recently intervened and contributed $72,000 to prevent a 75 percent cut in chinook production at the state’s salmon hatchery in Tumwater.
“If the tribe hadn’t been able to help the state, only one million chinook would’ve been released,” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director for the tribe. Production at the Deschutes River facility has been steady at 4 million chinook, but because of a shortfall in legislative funding, production would have crashed to 1 million. Production has been as high as 12 million fall chinook salmon at the facility since the program began in the 1950s.
Chinook from the Deschutes contribute to fisheries throughout the region. “This chinook run, at the far southern head of Puget Sound, is incredibly important because these fish are caught everywhere from Alaska to Budd Inlet,” said Joe Peters, harvest biologist for the tribe. “And, actually, the vast majority of these fish are caught in sport fisheries between Everett and Tacoma.”
The run’s contribution to fisheries and the local culture comes despite of limitations it faces to find good habitat. “Almost as soon as these fish leave for the ocean, they enter an incredibly degraded estuary,” Dickison said. So-called Capitol Lake and the alterations of lower Budd Inlet make for extremely poor marine transition conditions. This is where salmon smolt as they adapt to salt water.
A shrinking state budget over the last few years has put pressure on natural resources agencies, especially on salmon hatchery production. “The money the state spends on DFW is less than one percent of the entire state budget and has shrunk over the last decade,” Dickison said. Since 2001 the portion of the state budget spent on DFW has shrunk from .68 percent to .56 percent.
“The tribe had to jump in at the last minute to save these fish,” Dickison said. “The decision from the legislature to cut funding didn’t give us much time to consider what to do with production on the Deschutes.”
“The tribe is interested in making sure our treaty right to harvest salmon is preserved. These chinook are an important part of our fishing culture and economy,” Andy Whitener, tribal Natural Resources Director said. “Fishing on these salmon is important to the tribe and to non-tribal sport fishermen, too. We’re glad everyone will be able to fish on this run.”