State fishery managers have begun releasing more than 500,000 juvenile steelhead from five state fish hatcheries into Puget Sound rivers after receiving word from NOAA-Fisheries that those facilities meet federal environmental standards.
For the past two years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has released steelhead from those five hatcheries into area lakes to ensure they wouldn’t interfere with wild steelhead protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
That action resulted from a legal agreement with the Wild Fish Conservancy, which stipulated that WDFW would not release steelhead smolts into area rivers until NOAA-Fisheries determined that its hatchery operations comply with the federal law.
Now that WDFW has received the necessary federal permits, the department is again releasing smolts that will migrate to the ocean and return as adult steelhead after two years, said Kelly Cunningham, deputy assistant director of WDFW’s Fish Program.
“We are pleased that NOAA-Fisheries agrees our hatchery plans are scientifically sound,” Cunningham said. “This means that we can again produce fish for harvest in fisheries throughout Puget Sound.”
WDFW hatcheries in northern Puget Sound currently releasing hatchery smolts include:
Wallace Creek, 27,600
Reiter Ponds, 140,000
Kendall Creek, 150,000
Tokul Creek, 74,000
NOAA-Fisheries also approved a permit allowing the Dungeness Hatchery to release 10,000 steelhead smolts on the Olympic Peninsula, but those releases will take place in mid-May due to the timing of the run, Cunningham said.