Contributed photo/Michael Humling, U.S. Fish Wildlife Service
                                Spring Chinook Salmon.

Contributed photo/Michael Humling, U.S. Fish Wildlife Service Spring Chinook Salmon.

Salish Sea hatcheries to increase salmon stocks

When more buyers want a product, a company will often raise production to meet that demand. Fish hatcheries are using this economic concept in Washington, by planning to release more Chinook salmon next spring to fulfill the demand by humans, marine mammals and the Southern resident orcas.

“Everybody wants Chinook — the fishermen, the whales, people in the restaurants, so that’s what we’re focusing on,” said Glenwood Springs Facility Manager Mike O’Connell.

Orcas Island’s Glenwood Springs, managed by nonprofit Long Live the Kings, is incubating 1 million Chinook eggs over the winter to be released at the end of May. Since salmon are not native to the creek where Glenwood Springs is located, it gets its eggs from the Samish Hatchery near Burlington. This year, the Samish hatchery had extra eggs because of increased production requirements from the state, so it’s giving that surplus to Glenwood Springs.

“Essentially, we’re putting about 200,00 more this year than normal,” O’Connell said. “That’s at the request of the state fish and wildlife for enhancement food for these Southern resident [orcas].”

A factor in the reduction of the Southern resident orca population is the decline in availability of food. The Southern residents are salmon-eaters that primarily eat Chinook. The population of the resident orcas is dwindling, having dropped to a 30-year low of 74 members.

The state of Washington has committed to increasing the hatchery production of salmon to assist in the recovery of the Southern resident killer whales.

Additionally, nearly $12 million is proposed in the 2019 operating budget to maximize existing capacity at state-owned hatcheries to produce an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts. Independently-run hatcheries like Glenwood Springs, however, will not receive operational funding from the state.

According to Long Live the Kings, while both recreational and commercial fishing of Chinook in the Salish Sea was reduced by 66 percent, marine survival of Chinook, in general, is only half of what it was in 1984. Seventy-five percent of the Chinook returning to Puget Sound are from hatcheries.

“I’m sure it’s going to help to some degree,” O’Connell said. “Some of those fish will be going to the whales for food.”

For more info about Glenwood Springs and Long Live the Kings, visit https://lltk.org/project/glenwood-springs-chinook/.