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Originally published Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Baker Lake anglers benefit from boost in juvenile salmon survival

Baker Lake anglers have enjoyed the good life since the first sockeye fishery in 2010, thanks in part to a dramatic boost in fish production.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Reel Time Northwest

Seattle native and lifelong angler Mark Yuasa blogs on fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

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Baker Lake anglers have enjoyed the good life since the first sockeye fishery in 2010, thanks in part to a dramatic boost in fish production.

While the bulk of survival is based on how fish fare in the ocean, there's also been an emphasis on coming up with creative ways to improve their freshwater environment.

"We've had a floating surface collector (a 130-foot barge) in place on Baker Lake for about three years that is more efficient at gathering young salmon than the old system," said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in La Conner.

The huge barge has broad netting that draws the migrating juvenile sockeye into a funnel using water flow where they're held in tanks and evaluated. Fish are then transferred by trucks below the two dams, and eventually released to complete their outbound migration process.

The new system is able to gather about 90 percent of the young salmon compared to the old one that collected just 50 percent.

More than 500,000 juvenile fish were collected this past March through early June, which was a record. These fish will return as adults in 2014.

"Survival rate from smolt to adult is above average, and the old collector wasn't anywhere nearly as efficient," said Barkdull. "Before the new system we had some of the worst survival on record (which jumped from 1.3-to-1.6 percent to 10-to-12 percent)."

To further boost juvenile fish collection, a similar system will begin operating in Lake Shannon next spring.

"Once Shannon goes on line we could see a significant increase in the number of smolt going out, and I don't think Baker Lake has reached its capacity either," Barkdull said.

Another boost to sockeye production was the construction of the Puget Sound Energy Fish Hatchery a few years ago.

Since the 1920s, annual adult sockeye returns to Baker River averaged about 3,500. In the early 1980s, returns plummeted, falling to just 99 fish in 1985.

This past summer an all-time high of 48,000 sockeye returned to the river (35,366 was the forecast).

"The sockeye returns have been increasing, and was much bigger than the (2011) return of about 38,000," Barkdull said. "Next year folks are going to be a bit disappointed with the forecast."

Instead of the 450,000 smolt production from this summer's returnees, the out-migration was more like 220,000 for those expected to come back in 2013.

"We won't be predicting quite as many sockeye returning this summer," Barkdull said. "If survival rates hold up we'll still have fisheries, but not as exciting as we saw this past year."

Since 2010, Baker Lake has seen lucrative summer fisheries luring thousands of anglers with good catch rates. Details: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/sockeye/baker_river.html.

Mount Rainier

climbing rates increase

Those planning on climbing Mount Rainier in the near future will see a slight rise in the fee.

Starting next month, adult passes will cost $44 (a $1 increase), and those 24-and-under will be charged $31.

A Mount Rainier National Park news release said about 10,500 people climb the mountain annually, and the fees are used for:

• Promoting "Leave No Trace" practices by cleaning up more than two tons of human waste from high camps and other climbing locations around the mountain.

• Providing experienced and permanent climbing rangers to manage, supervise and staff high camps, contact and brief climbers, and perform patrols on various climbing routes. The staff also performs rescues and emergency medical services.

• Helping staff the Paradise and White River information centers to register climbers, share route and weather-condition reports, update the web-based climbing blog, and answer climbing-related questions by phone, email or in person.

• The fees also provide gear, equipment, training and supplies.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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