It was definitely not your usual holiday package arrival, but it was a day for special celebration at Edmonds’ Willow Creek Fish Hatchery. A group of more than 20 volunteers gathered on Saturday morning to take delivery of an estimated 80,000 fertilized coho salmon eggs.
Over the next few months, hatchery volunteers will oversee and care for them as they hatch, grow and develop into the next generation of coho, ready to be released into western Washington streams.
Fertilized at the state’s Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, the eggs are already showing signs of the life within, with a prominent dark eye spot and the rudimentary beginnings of a spine.
“It will take until April or so before they’re ready for release,” said long-time hatchery volunteer Ray Crawford. “We care for them every step of the way during their development, watching things like water temperature and chemistry, and protecting them from bacteria and other diseases.”
“The time it takes for a fertilized egg to hatch and grow is entirely dependent on water temperature,” explained Walt Thompson, one of the volunteers who drives the efforts at Willow Creek Hatchery. “The warmer the water, the faster the baby salmon develop. We’re looking at having these ready for release sometime around mid-April.”
Because state fisheries regulations mandate that hatchery salmon be released into their native watersheds, the fish raised here in Edmonds are traditionally transported to other western Washington creeks for release.
But last year the state granted special permission to release some locally, opening the way for more than 700 baby salmon to be released into Edmonds’ Shell Creek.
Coordinated by Sound Salmon Solutions, the Edmonds Woodway High School Students Saving Salmon club released the fish into Shell Creek last May, with high hopes for their return three years hence. (See My Edmonds News coverage of the salmon release here.
According to Students Saving Salmon advisor Joe Scordino, the state has opened the way for this to happen again in 2018.
“This year we hope to place some of the incubation trays with the developing eggs directly into Shell Creek,” he explained. “This way the salmon will be exposed to the particular chemistry of the Shell Creek waters as early as possible in their life cycle, which we hope will enhance their ability to return right back here in three years to spawn.”
Owned by the City of Edmonds, the Willow Creek Fish Hatchery has operated since 1985, raising more than 100,000 salmon annually for release into western Washington streams. The hatchery was originally managed by the Edmonds chapter of Trout Unlimited, but was turned over to Sound Salmon Solutions earlier this year. Many of the original army of volunteers continue to perform the day-to-day functions of running the hatchery, ensuring the continuity of the hatchery’s key role in maintaining and enhancing western Washington’s wild salmon runs.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel