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Nearly 4,000 chum returned to Union River

Between mid-August and mid-October, 3,912 adult chum salmon returned to spawn on the Union River in Belfair.

That's the count at the adult fish trap operated by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group in Belfair on state Route 300. That's the fourth highest total counted in years when the fish were not supplemented on the river, said Josh O'Hara, the salmon and steelhead biologist for the group.

"It was definitely a good year," he said.

The annual counts have been conducted since 2000. The higher counts in nonsupplemental years were 6,479 in 2021, 5,810 in 2017 and 5,363 in 2022.

The decrease from last year is not startling, O'Hara said. The parent group of this year's summer chum adults is from 2019, when 1,887 returned, then an estimated 69,475 outmigrated, he said. For the 2022 count, 3,628 of their parents returned in 2018, and 368,283 outmigrated in 2019.

In other words, O'Hara said, "Both the 2023 and 2022 returns were higher than their likely parent run by at least 1,700 chum."

During the count, volunteers logged 2,468 hours compared with 3,023 last year, O'Hara said.

Since 2000, the fish trap has been operated by research interns and volunteers around the clock from mid-August to mid-October. The previous year, summer chum salmon in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Starting in 2000, salmon group has been working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to supplement the Union River summer chum run as part of the Summer Chum Salmon Conservation Initiative, prepared by the WDFW and the Point No Point Treaty Tribes.

In 2003, stock supplementation ended after it was determined the Union River summer chum run was healthy enough that it became a donor to stock the Tahuya River, where summer chum was classified as "recently instinct." The organization began releasing summer chum fry into the Tahuya River from the Union River stock in 2004 and concluded the supplementation in 2015. Monitoring continues on both rivers.

Estuary restoration was completed on the Union River in 2012, and the number of summer chum has fluctuated: 1,882 in 2013, 676 in 2014, 1,232 in 2015, 3,512 in 2016, 5,810 in 2017, 3,628 in 2018, 1,887 in 2019, 1,777 in 2020 and 6,479 in 2021.

On its website, HCSEG states that summer chum are the first run of "fertilizer" for the Hood Canal this time of year, keeping the biodiversity of the watershed high.

"Many species of fish depend on nutrients brought by chum during summer, including chinook, sea-run cutthroat, steelhead and young coho. Summer chum bring marine-deprived nutrients back to trees, shrubs, insects, birds and other creatures as well."

Author Bio

Gordon Weeks, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald


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