Collaboration with ‘North America’s longest-running Pacific salmon derby’ expands research, understanding of central Puget Sound resident Chinook salmon

New research published this spring is shining a light on the importance of community science in fisheries management, with one Seattle based fishing club helping to champion decades of meaningful data on salmon size and abundance.

The study, Multidecadal Trends in Body Size of Puget Sound Chinook Salmon: Analysis of Data from the Tengu Derby, a Culturally Unique Fishery, highlights Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) long-standing collaboration with the University of Washington and participants in the Tengu Derby, which provided central Puget Sound Chinook salmon sampling data from 1946 to 2019 for the study.

The data has helped to build upon Department research from 2019 that analyzed body mass, abundance, survival, and productivity trends across 45 years in Puget Sound in the commercial purse seine fishery. This new data set didn’t show close alignment with this prior commercial fishery research, but it does help to expand fishery managers’ understanding into how salmon use the Puget Sound region as distinct from the coastal ocean.

First organized by the Tengu Fishing Club of Seattle in November of 1937, the Tengu Blackmouth Derby is now in its 85th year, with only a few breaks due to World War II, salmon fishing closures, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Without the partnership of the Tengu Derby and its long-standing presence in Puget Sound, we simply wouldn’t have this unique window into the lives of resident Puget Sound Chinook,” said James Losee, fish program manager for WDFW’s coastal region and study co-author. “This study is a huge reflection of derby participants’ cultural heritage and commitment to salmon conservation as well as the integral role of community science to fisheries monitoring and management.”

Japanese Americans started the Tengu Blackmouth Derby in November 1937 with about 250 members. Following a pause during World War II, the derby resumed in December of 1946 as Japanese Americans returned from internment camps across the West Coast.

Tengu Derby anglers long ago invented the fishing technique of “mooching” in Elliott Bay as a way to entice salmon by working bait in an up-and-down motion while drifting. Derby participants continue to use this same technique in the same area east of a line between Alki Point and Fourmile Rock and harvested fish are weighed in a central weighing station, reinforcing the data’s accuracy year-to-year.

These data are unique in that they reflect the abundance and condition of resident Chinook salmon that remain in the Salish Sea for the majority of their life, commonly known as “blackmouth” opposed to those that migrate into the Pacific Ocean. This paper and the data provided by the Tengu Derby Fishing Club provides the first estimate of changes in size for this unique form of Chinook salmon.

This study is just one of many that WDFW researchers, biologists, and fishery managers have been leading up in recent years to investigate Puget Sound salmon processes. Visit the links below for a sample of some recent research.

How anglers can help

Want to make a difference for fisheries monitoring and management? Community scientists (just like you!) can help provide important information about populations and trends. Similar to how Tengu Derby participants were able to contribute to meaningful data collection, there might just be opportunities in your local fishing club! Part of a club and not sure what role you can play in community science? Consider contacting staff in our Fish Program or regions to explore potential monitoring opportunities near you.

WDFW fishery managers are also calling on salmon anglers to submit voluntary Salmon Trip Reports to help to increase the amount of data available for in-season management. These trip reports are just one tool in a suite of options fisheries managers use to collect biological and fishery data for Puget Sound salmon. Other monitoring tools include dockside sampling, test fishing, and boat surveys. Anglers can complete the voluntary Salmon Trip Report Form online at str.wdfw-fish.us/home or visit the WDFW website at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/fishing/trip-reporting to download a paper copy.

In addition to the Tengu Derby, other study partners include the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey.

To learn more about fishery management in Washington state, visit our website.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.