The Explainer

Lake Washington Sockeye Salmon Returns on the Rise

It’s been years since sockeye returns to Lake Washington have yielded a fishery. But in June the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will start its annual count at the Ballard Locks, and if recent trends continue, the drought could soon be over.

By Matthew Halverson June 2, 2014 Published in the June 2014 issue of Seattle Met

Remind me: What’s a fishery?

Essentially it’s a surplus of fish—beyond what’s needed to propagate the species—made available for sport and tribal fishing in a given year.

And how many fish have to return for the state to announce a fishery?

Traditionally it’s been 350,000, but Fish and Wildlife is considering dropping that number.

That seems like a lot. Is it?

When you compare it to the number of juvenile sockeye released at the Landsburg Hatchery on the Cedar River—seven million last year, 20 million in 2012—no, it’s not. (And that doesn’t even include those that hatch in the wild.) But compared to returns in recent years, which have ranged from 20,000 to 180,000, it’s a ton.


Wait, they’re releasing millions, but only tens of thousands are coming back?
Well, it can take up to four years for sockeye to return, so it’ll be a while before we know how effective those massive releases have been.


Still, those returns seem crazy small.
They are, and unfortunately Fish and Wildlife isn’t sure why. But this summer, with $150,00 in funding set aside by the state legislature, the agency and a team from the University of Washington will launch a study on predators that may be munching the fish before they make it out to sea.


So there’s some light at the bottom of the lake.
Sure, assuming they don’t find Godzilla down there.

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