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Originally published March 28, 2014 at 7:16 PM | Page modified March 28, 2014 at 9:29 PM

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Sockeye returns to Lake Washington improving

State fisheries managers are forecasting a return of 166,997 sockeye this summer, and if the prediction pans out it would be a significant improvement for the third year in a row.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Lake Washington sockeye returns have surpassed predictions in recent years, and this summer’s forecast just might hold more optimism.

State fisheries managers are forecasting a return of 166,997 sockeye this summer, and if the prediction pans out it would be a significant improvement for the third year in a row.

“It is unlikely that we’ll have a fishery in the lake based on the run size, but I hope I’m wrong,” said Aaron Bosworth, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

In 2013, an in-season return of 179,203 beat a forecast of 96,866, and in 2012, 145,815 headed back to the large urban watershed after a forecast of 45,871.

State, tribal and other fisheries managers have been in talks about lowering the lake’s sockeye spawning goal to from 350,000 to around 200,000.

“Because (this summer’s) forecast is not too far from 200,000, it would be great if the co-managers announce a change soon,” said Frank Urabeck, a sport-fishing representative on the Cedar River Adaptive Management Work Group.

Negotiations have been ongoing since last year, but resource managers aren’t ready to make a move.

“The discussion is still ongoing, and the tribes would like to see it reduced,” Bosworth said. “We’d also like to see it happen before this summer, and once we get through the (salmon season setting process in early April) then we’ll look at it.”

Looking toward the future, many are banking their hopes on the permanent Landsburg Hatchery on the Cedar, which started producing sockeye two years ago to boost a run that had come under hard times.

In 2012, the hatchery released 20 million sockeye fry, and water flows in the river cooperated during autumn and winter with only a minor amount of scouring in nesting areas.

If those out-migrating juvenile sockeye survive well in the lake and ocean, then the possibility of a fishery in 2016 could become more of a reality.

The goal of the hatchery is to produce about 34 million fry annually, but just 7 million were produced from the 2013 brood-stock due to rare intense rain storms and high water flows last September that made adult fish collection nearly impossible.

“We had a whole combination of situations that created some challenges for us to get our optimum egg collection,” said Paul Faulds, the Seattle Public Utilities Landsburg mitigation manager. “We were doing really well on fish collection until the storm hit. It just shows how quickly things can turn around.”

To make matters worse, the peak of the sockeye return last year to the Cedar occurred during a 10-day period when hatchery crews couldn’t get at the fish.

“Our work crews scratched really hard to get as many fish as they could,” Faulds said.

Another big unknown is the survival rate on young sockeye once they migrate into the lake before heading out to sea.

Senator Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, was instrumental this month in getting the Legislature to fund $150,000 to initiate a study on young sockeye predation this year by the University of Washington Fisheries Department and state Fish and Wildlife.

“I’m very pleased that I was able to work with my colleagues to make sure the budget funds a study that should help restore the extremely popular sockeye fishery,” Pearson said in a news release. “The economic benefits to the region could be significant.”

The study will help determine if predation by northern pike-minnow and cutthroat trout is a factor on juvenile sockeye in the lake.

This funding was also accomplished by strong support from the cities of Seattle and Renton, and sport fishing advocates of the Coastal Conservation Association and Puget Sound Anglers.

The last time a sport and tribal fishery happened was 2006 when 470,000 sockeye returned. That allowed an 18-day sport fishery.

Other sport fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Fishery co-managers will begin monitoring salmon counts on June 12 at the Ballard Locks fish ladder viewing window.

myuasa@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8780



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