Frank Urabeck believes recreational anglers could have a sockeye salmon fishery on Lake Washington after 2016, thanks in part to the new hatchery on the Cedar River.
Urabeck, a recreational fishing proponent, will talk about the potential fishery and the importance of the hatchery at Tuesday’s meeting of the SeaTac Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association.
“There are major issues associated with the management of the new Cedar River sockeye hatchery that are being addressed in debates this year that will determine if we have Lake Washington sockeye fisheries after 2016,” Urabeck said.
If all goes well, however, Urabeck is confident enough sockeye could return in 2016 to allow for recreational and tribal fisheries.
More than 350,000 sockeye have to be counted passing through the Ballard locks to allow such a fishery. The last time Lake Washington was open for sockeye fishing was the summer of 2006, when 470,000 fish returned, allowing sport-fishers and tribes to harvest about 60,000 each.
Last summer, 144,989 sockeye were counted at the Ballard Locks, more than three times the pre-season forecast of sockeye expected to return to Lake Washington.
There are several factors that are sparking Urabeck’s optimism.
There were 19 million sockeye eggs taken this fall for the new Cedar River hatchery that began operating in September 2011, he said. The hatchery was built by the City of Seattle as compensation for denying sockeye access to the river above the city’s Landsburg water supply diversion dam.
Seattle has agreed with the federal government, state and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to produce 34 million sockeye fry whenever there is enough broodstock to make this possible.
“We need about 38 million eggs to get 34 million fry because of some mortality during hatchery incubation,” Urabeck said. “This year we got about half the eggs Seattle needs to meet its obligation with about 13 million or more hatchery fry expected to reach the mouth of the Cedar by April.”
The other half of the 2013 production equation is made up of sockeye fry produced by wild or natural-origin sockeye spawning in river.
Because there have not yet been significant floods that damage sockeye redds where eggs are incubating, Urabeck feels there is the potential for 20 million or more natural-origin fry entering Lake Washington by early spring.
“Combined with hatchery fry entering the lake, we could be close to the 35 million total fry that historical data suggests would give us a 50 percent chance of a fishery in 2016,” he said. “That is a big deal. However, remember the flood gauntlet has another three months to go.”
At issue, however, are broodstock collection and hatchery fry release decisions made by Seattle Public Utilities These elements are being debated by the Adaptive Management Work Group that advises the utility on the hatchery program.
Urabeck, one of the advisors representing the sport fishing community, argues the hatchery program should be focused on getting the Cedar River sockeye run back up to harvestable levels, sooner than later.
“As with most everything, it is a matter of balance. If we do not achieve better balance then there will be much more uncertainty about future sockeye fisheries,” he said.
“In my view, the main purpose of the new hatchery is to achieve harvest objectives within the constraints of meeting (Endangered Species Act) protection requirements for listed chinook salmon which spawn in the Cedar River at the same time as the sockeye.”
TO LEARN MORE
Frank Urabeck will give a presentation on Lake Washington sockeye fisheries starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the IBEW Local 46 Hall, 19802 62nd Ave. S., Kent. If you cannot attend, you can get information from Urabeck by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distribution: The Columbia River system marks the southern extent of distribution of sockeye in North America. In 1992, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Western Washington Indian tribes identified nine separate sockeye stocks in the state. Lake Washington sockeye (three stocks) and Columbia River sockeye (two stocks) are the state’s largest runs.
Freshwater Life History: Sockeye typically spawn in streams that are tributaries to large lakes. Spawning begins as early as August and some stocks can extend spawning into February. Sockeye fry migrate downstream to the deep waters of nursery lakes after emerging from spawning sites from January-June, at a size of 1-11/4 inches. Almost all juvenile sockeye in the state rear in lakes for one year.
Ocean Life History: Sockeye smolts head to the sea in the spring at a length of 4-6 inches. Returning sockeye will spend 2-4 years at sea before returning to their natal spawning grounds, with the majority returning in June and July as 4-year-old fish at an average weight of about 5 pounds.
Ocean phase Coloration: Silvery sides with a green or blue back and white tips on the ventral and anal fins. Sockeye have no large spots on back or tail, but some might have speckling on the back. They have a prominent gold eye color.
Spawning coloration: Body is a shade of red , and the head and tail will be greenish. Males might display a vertical pattern of bars along the sides, and spawning females will usually display a dark vertical stripe.
State record: The record sockeye caught in freshwater was a 10.63-pound fish landed by Gary Krasselt on Lake Washington on July 20, 1982.Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure