Hundreds of thousands Puget Sound hatchery steelhead smolt have found a new home in an unfamiliar Eastern Washington lake.

“We had to look for a place to put 369,000 juvenile steelhead that wasn’t connected to Puget Sound, and settled on Sprague Lake (located about 36 miles west of Spokane off I-90),” said Chris Donley, a state Fish and Wildlife inland fish program manager.

A lawsuit settlement between state Fish and Wildlife and the Wild Fish Conservancy left close to 1 million 6- to 7-inch steelhead from being released this spring into Puget Sound streams.

The conservancy’s concern was the impact hatchery fish could have on native fish.

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Under the agreement, only 180,000 fish could be released into the Skykomish River, and left another 800,000 in limbo.

Fisheries officials had very few choices on where to plant the fish since the agreement was limited to bodies of water not connected to marine areas.

“We felt putting them into Sprague (open year-round to fishing) was like making lemons into lemonade,” Donley said. “The lake’s environment was suitable, and it has good forage. The big question now is how well they’ll take to the lake.”

Donley says if they survive, anglers should enjoy good fishing this fall as these fish should grow to about 12 inches by October. Plus they’ll offer some additional opportunity during the winter ice-fishery and next spring.

The long haul in trucks from the Soos, Tokul and Marblemount hatcheries in northern Puget Sound went smoothly.

“Surprisingly we had less than 7,500 fish (die) from the nine-hour drive those fish made in hatchery trucks. That is a long way to go, and we’re very happy with the low mortality rate.”

Donley expects some bird and fish predation, but the odds are much better than if the tiny, young fish were planted in less productive westside lakes.

“Had we put them into other smaller, west-side lowland lakes with complex fish communities and lack of food, their survival rate and chances to grow would have been terrible,” he said. “On a scale of one to 10 with Sprague being a nine, their survival rate in other lakes would have been about a three to almost zero.”

The rest of the young steelhead will remain in the hatcheries to grow to about 12 inches, and Donley says his agency will look at about 25 lakes that are good candidates for fish plants.

“We’ll have lots of fishing opportunity for them in the fall around Puget Sound once we decide which lakes will be planted,” Donley said.

Shellfish hatchery named after retired UW professor

A new shellfish restoration hatchery opened late last month at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Station in Manchester with the hopes boosting oyster populations in Puget Sound and the coast.

A ribbon cutting was held May 22 for the restoration hatchery named in honor of Kenneth K. Chew of Seattle.

The $775,000 facility is part of an initiative to boost shellfish aquaculture, and has the ability to raise millions of oysters through a high-tech system.

Chew, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is a well-known administrator on shellfish biology. Chew’s work on shellfish has helped restore many depleted species.

Chew was born in Red Bluff, Calif., in 1933 and earned a BA from Chico State College in 1955, and went on to attend the UW School of Fisheries, where he taught for 43 years as a professor and dean.

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