Students pitch in to ensure healthy salmon runs in local streams

Saturday morning saw an estimated 50 students, teachers, advisors and local salmon boosters (all part of the Edmonds Stream Team) pitching in at Edmonds’ Willow Creek Fish Hatchery to fill incubation boxes with more than 5,000 coho salmon eggs.

The boxes will be planted in Shell, Willow and Shellabarger Creeks. There,the hatchlings will grow and eventually migrate downstream to Puget Sound, where they will mature. The young salmon imprint on the unique chemical signature of the water in the stream where they hatched. Returning to spawn, they literally sniff out and follow this chemical signature right back to where they hatched in local streams.

The Edmonds Stream Team had its beginnings more than seven years ago as the Edmonds-Woodway High School Students Saving Salmon Club. It has now grown to include students and faculty advisors from Meadowdale High School.

“We now have 87 students on the Stream Team,” said local fish biologist, team advisor and passionate salmon booster Joe Scordino. “It’s been fantastic adding Meadowdale to the effort – with more students we can do so much more to help restore, enhance and foster salmon runs in our local streams.”

Saturday’s effort involved assembling incubation trays, each of which holds 200 salmon eggs in individual chambers. The assembled trays filled with eggs are kept at the hatchery in tubs of moving, oxygenated water drawn from Willow Creek until they are ready to be placed in the streams.

“We keep them in the best conditions possible before placing them,” explained Scordino.  “This gives them the best chance of survival.”

On placement day, the trays are linked together in groups of three and placed directly in the stream in repurposed milk crates. The crates are secured to the streambed and protected with a placement of upstream rocks to minimize intrusion of silt into the egg chambers, thus ensuring the steady flow of water necessary for maximum survival of the eggs.

“We’ve been using these hatch boxes for several years now,” explained Scordino. “At first we had some issues with sand and silt clogging them up, but we’ve refined our technique and we think we’ve got that licked.”

The hatch boxes and their egg chambers are designed not only to maximize survival of the eggs, but the hatchlings as well.

“When the eggs hatch, the yolk sac remains attached to the young alevin (hatchling),” explained Scordino. “The holes into the individual hatch box chambers are small enough that the alevin can’t get out until the yolk sac is completely absorbed, which is two weeks or so after hatching. Remaining in the box gives them additional protection and the attached yolk sac provides all the food they need. As soon as the sac is absorbed, they squeeze out through the hole in the hatch box and start feeding on their own. This not only protects the egg, but after hatching protects the young alevin.”

Two hatch boxes were planted in Willow Creek on Saturday morning. The team planned to meet again on Sunday to plant the remaining five in Shell and Shellabarger Creeks.

Planting the hatch boxes in Willow Creek involves something of a leap of faith by the Stream Team, hinging on the planned daylighting of Willow Creek.

Presently Willow Creek drains through the Edmonds Marsh, which connects to Puget Sound via a 1,600-foot underground pipe.  While the pipe poses no barrier to young salmon moving from Willow Creek into Puget Sound, returning salmon cannot migrate back up the pipe to spawn. (The Willow Creek daylighting effort has been in process for almost a decade. Learn more about it in these My Edmonds News stories from 2013 and 2019)

“We’re crossing our fingers that three years from now when these fish return, they’ll have a direct path back upstream,” said Scordino.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. Great story about great people doing great things for our community and not getting enough thanks for it. Thanks Joe, young people, Diane and Larry for doing the work and bringing the information to us about it.

  2. Thank you, Larry! It was a really fun and educational project. The popularity of this group should be noted as the work that Joe Scordino, Nancy Scordino and Dave Millette creates interest in understanding the cycles of our salmon and the importance of restoration of our streams and estuaries.

  3. Our Southern Pod of Killer Whales have a diet of Chinook not Coho. It would be nice to find a way to create a Chinook run.

  4. The state has been enhancing the Salish Sea Chinook population for years with late release, fin clipped Chinook fry from the various hatcheries in the watersheds. Puget Sound sport fishers have paid a premium on licensing to support this effort for years in exchange for some winter and summer opportunities to take a few Chinook on hook and line. Very limited, one fish/day and short duration summer season. The wild Chinook runs have been almost lost to overfishing. gillnet fishing( kills all the catch) and habitat loss. Our local streams are generally too small to support Chinook stocking. Joe S. could elaborate on this and correct anything I’m not correct about here.

  5. Thanks Clint! What little I could learn from searching did list Rivers not creeks. Fishing seems to take a big toll on Chinook. I wonder if there are strategies that could limit fishing for a time to see if that helps the Chinook? The limits on sport fishing are strong but what is the data show of how many Chinooks are fished for sport vs fished for profit and estimates of how many Killer Whales eat?

  6. Other than outright poaching and rule violation by sport fishers there has not been much taking of wild Chinook by sport fishers for several decades now. The risks of doing that are very high and I suspect there is not much of it going on. The state can take expensive boats and gear as well as arresting and fining offenders. All, the sport salmon fisheries are closely monitored by WDFW employees who fish in small marked boats right along with the sport fleet. They record and release their entire catch of all salmon so they know what’s going on and where. They also go boat to boat checking on catch success in a friendly manner. I suspect they would report observed violations to actual game cops in patrol boats but I’m just guessing on that point. I usually got stopped and checked for license and any gear violations about once every two years by actual game cops on patrol. I’m sure there is some incidental taking of Chinook by net fisheries that are minimally allowed for other species like CoHo, Chum, and Pink (odd years only). Purse seine commercials can return Chinook by catch to the Sea but gill net commercials could not, as the nets kill everything that gets trapped by the gills. Sport catch information is readily available but I suspect accurate commercial catch of Chinook, hatchery and wild, would be hard to obtain and document. The federated tribes control much of the commercial and sport fishing in our state and I have no knowledge of their practices regarding wild Chinook retention. I suspect they try to prevent as much retention of wild fish as possible as that is in their best interest. We are all trying to save the wild fish as much as possible at this point. Some runs of wild CoHo are also endangered (Snohomish River, for example).

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