PUD: Fishing, mining are preventing winter steelhead recovery

Herald Net –

A threatened fish species is in trouble, and scientists think some human-caused harm is entirely preventable.

The number of wild winter steelhead in the Sultan River, north of the Skykomish, has steadily declined since the early 1990s. Last year, just 28 of the fish were counted.

Natural resource scientists at the Snohomish County Public Utility District have watched the trend with concern — and they believe the timing of the fishing season and suction dredge mining in the upper Sultan are contributing to the stock’s decline.

Puget Sound steelhead were federally recognized as threatened in 2007.

The Sultan River is one of the most highly monitored bodies of water in the Snohomish Basin, said Keith Binkley, manager of natural resources at the PUD. Careful data collection is required as environmental mitigation for the department’s Jackson Hydroelectric Project, located in the Sultan River watershed.

“The license requires we monitor the heck out of fish populations,” Binkley said.

His team tracks winter steelhead as they migrate between their spawning grounds in the Sultan River to the ocean and back.

They’ve found that on June 1, the historical start date of fishing season on the Skykomish, about 11 percent of winter steelhead are still en route up the Skykomish back to their spawning grounds in the Sultan River.

Read more