WDFW and tribes spawn millions of chum salmon eggs through hatchery program on Nooksack River

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WDFW and Lummi Nation staff prepare chum salmon for spawning at our Kendall Creek Hatchery on the North Fork Nooksack River near the town of Deming in Whatcom County.

In our North Puget Sound Region, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) hatchery and fisheries managers have been collaborating with recreational anglers and tribes on broodstock programs to rebuild runs of chum salmon.

On the Skykomish River, for the past several years local fishing guides and anglers have volunteered to collect live chum for transport to our Wallace River Hatchery. And in 2022 by working with tribal co-managers, we expanded broodstock efforts to the Skagit River where chum are collected for the Marblemount Hatchery by the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and WDFW.

Then, this past fall, we significantly increased chum collection and broodstock programs on the Nooksack River out of our Kendall Creek Hatchery, working closely with the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation.

In late 2023, together we collected more than 5.2 million chum eggs. These eggs are now being spawned in a large, retrofitted incubation trailer which staff have nicknamed the “ChumZilla”. The fry they produce will head out to Bellingham Bay and the Strait of Georgia in early-spring 2024.

Jaime and Kevin, WDFW employees at the Kendall Creek Hatchery, with a large chum salmon from the Nooksack River, and chum eggs during the spawning process from fertilization to incubation.

Known for their bold purple and green tiger stripes and large teeth, chum — also known as dog or keta salmon — are typically some of the last salmon to return to Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and some coastal rivers each fall (certain South Sound and Hood Canal rivers also have summer chum runs), and they provide an important supply of nutrients for a wide variety of species from eagles and trout to Southern Resident killer whales.

In areas of central Puget Sound where chum runs are relatively healthy, commercial chum salmon fisheries provide economic and cultural benefits for state and tribal fishers. More information on commercial chum fisheries can be found on this webpage.

WDFW’s School Cooperative Program (formerly known as Salmon in the Classroom) often provides chum salmon eggs to schools and partners such as Bellingham Technical College to be reared in a classroom aquarium in conjunction with science curriculum focused on the salmonid life-cycle. When fish reach the fry stage, schools release their fish in a local watershed in coordination with WDFW.

Due to frequent high-water conditions in November and December, and because chum will “stray” from their natal spawning area to nearby creeks, sloughs, and even other watersheds, collecting returning adult chum for hatchery broodstock can be a challenge. We’re thankful to all the anglers, fishing guides, partners, and co-manager tribes who are making these efforts possible!

We’re hopeful these collaborative hatchery programs will boost recovery of this iconic salmon species in North Puget Sound watersheds.

WDFW staff spawning chum salmon at Wallace River Hatchery near Sultan.

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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.