Nisqually Winter Chums Shouldn’t Be Listed, Feds Say

A proposal to list southern Puget Sound winter chum salmon under the Endangered Species Act has been turned down by federal fishery overseers.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said in a 90-day finding that a prodigious local petitioner’s effort “does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating” that Nisqually River and Chambers Creek chums “are a ‘species’ eligible for listing under the ESA.”

THE BROTHERS HALL — DAVE AND JR — HOLD A NISQUALLY WINTER CHUM CAUGHT IN DECEMBER 2015. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The proposal was brought forward by Sam Wright who’d claimed they’re the only two runs of winter chums anywhere in the world and that Chambers fish were diverging from Nisqually dogs.

But the feds say a genetic review found that the stocks “cluster closely with fall-run fish in Puget Sound and Hood Canal’ and that ‘there is no clear genetic evidence to support the idea that the winter-run chum salmon in Puget Sound are substantially reproductively isolated from other chum salmon populations in southern Puget Sound.'”

Anglers have kept as many as 1,300 Nisqually chums in recent years, according to state catch card data, and the run has provided for a tribal fishery too, but only one “complete” one in more than half a decade.

If there’s a bigger threat to chums, it might be predation by marine mammals.

A blog posted yesterday on the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s NW Treaty Tribes site said the Nisqually Tribe worries that up to a third of the run is being eaten by seals and sea lions before arriving on the gravel. They’re picking up pinniped poo to analyze how many salmon as well as steelhead are being consumed.

One interesting finding is that orcas may actually help reduce predation.

“We think the orcas either ate a lot of seals or chased them away and affected their behavior, resulting in more steelhead making it out to the ocean,” said the tribe’s David Troutt.

Sam Wright, a retired WDFW biologist, has previously successfully gotten NMFS to list three species of rockfish in Puget Sound, but couldn’t talk them into it for coho.

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