Record number of chinook reported at locks in Ballard

SEATTLE - A record number of threatened chinook salmon are passing through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard this year, bound for East King County rivers.

The return - nearly 32,000 - far surpasses the previous record of about 19,000 set in 2001. Counts began in 1995.

"It's an exceptional survival for the hatchery fish released from Issaquah," Steve Foley, a fishery biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Friday. "It's also an exceptional survival for those who got out of the Cedar River that are naturally produced."

Numbers of sockeye salmon, however, have reached an unusual low at about 60,000. Biologists estimated some 125,000 would enter the Locks this season.

The numbers come from the Muckleshoot Tribe, which conducts the counts.

Sockeyes are returning to Canadian rivers in similarly low numbers.

Coho-salmon numbers are just short of average at about 16,000.

Foley said marine conditions, especially water temperature, affect the numbers most. Because chinook and sockeye migrate out to the ocean at different times, the bulk of the chinook returning this year would have reached the ocean in 2004, while most of the sockeye would have entered saltwater in 2005.

In Bellevue, various efforts have been made to improve the number of chinook coming to Lake Washington.

Kit Paulsen, Bellevue's stream scientist, recognized ocean conditions as a substantial factor and noted the work of volunteer salmon watchers.

As part of the salmon-recovery plan, monitors watch for fish for 15 minutes twice a week, and can help identify problems, Paulsen said.

"We know our area, and we want to keep these fish," she added. "It's really exciting to see salmon in the middle of an urban center."