Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
May 2, 2012
The Squaxin Island Tribe released thousands of juvenile coho into the Deschutes River to see where they go. “In order to find out where the good coho habitat is in the Deschutes, we need to put some coho in the river,” said Scott Stetlzner, salmon biologist for the tribe.
Increasingly low runs of coho to the Deschutes in recent decades mean there are not enough coho to count. “We can make all the assumptions we want about what habitat coho like, but the best way to study their habitat is to see where they live and feed,” Stetlzner said.
A couple of months after releasing the young coho, the tribe will conduct snorkeling surveys throughout the watershed, looking for stretches where the fish go to feed and grow.
Because coho salmon spend an extra year in freshwater before heading out to to the ocean, they are more dependent on that habitat than other salmon species.
In the past, the Deschutes River was the largest producer of coho in deep South Sound. Coho have been returning in low numbers for over 20 years since a landslide sent tons of sediment into the river. “The landslide wiped out coho in their main stronghold on Huckleberry Creek and they haven’t been able to re-establish themselves since,” Stetlzner said.
New forest practice rules put into place since the landslide would likely prevent the same type of catastrophic event from happening again.
The tribe will use the information from the snorkel surveys to plan on-the-ground restoration and protection efforts. “Finding where salmon rear in the Deschutes is the single largest data gap in proceeding with much-needed habitat work,” Stetlzner said.
Because the upper Deschutes River is relatively undeveloped – less than 10 percent has been paved over – it’s still possible to restore salmon habitat and productivity. “There is a chance here to restore salmon productivity to historic levels,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe.
“Our way of life, our culture and economy have always been based around natural resources,” Whitener said. “Protecting and restoring salmon habitat is the most important thing we can do to restore salmon in the Deschutes and protect our treaty right to fish.”