The juvenile salmon released last week from the UW’s Big Beef Creek Fish Research Station are offspring of summer chum that returned 900-strong last year to the stream.
Located near the town of Seabeck on Hood Canal, Big Beef Creek’s original run of summer chum went extinct in 1984 after years of dwindling populations.
For the first time in decades hundreds of summer chum returned to Big Beef last fall. This follows five years of work to re-establish the run, an effort involving the UW, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the citizens of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.
Even back in the early 1970s, the run had fewer than 300 fish most years, says research scientist Steve Schroder of the state’s department of fish and wildlife. Schroder was a UW doctoral student 30 years ago working at the Big Beef Fish Research Station, a UW aquatic and fishery sciences facility.
The new summer chum run has been fostered using eggs from nearby Quilcene, which has a natural run bolstered in recent years by a small spawning program. Only a handful of summer chum — 20 or 30 — had returned to Big Beef Creek each of the previous two years, according to Gordon George, manager of the UW facility.
Last fall, 64 of Big Beef Creek’s 894 returning summer chums were captured and artificially spawned while the rest passed upstream to spawn naturally, George said.
The release of juveniles this week is the first of three. Others will be in mid-March and early April.
Those hatchery fish received a thermal mark so that scientists can discern them from the naturally spawning fish when they return in two, three or four years.
The cause of the previous decline and extinction of summer chum in Big Beef Creek is unknown, but it is suspected that overfishing was a major contributor, as well as dredging, building of dikes, road construction and reduced water quality.
Similar factors may have been at work in Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Summer chum salmon have been recognized as a threatened species in Puget Sound since 1994.
Big Beef Creek’s fall chum never went extinct although the size of the run, with an average of 600 fish a year, is a considerable decrease from the thousands that used to return. Coho, steelhead and cutthroat trout also spawn in the creek.