Tally Low: Second Smallest Lake Washington Sockeye Run

There was little hope to begin with but it was another disappointing year for Lake Washington sockeye: 2018 saw the second lowest return on record.

With the summer counting period ending earlier this week, just 28,409 red salmon were tallied at the Ballard Locks from June 12 through July 31.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE ANGLERS DURING THE 2006 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

That’s more than 10,000 fewer than the preseason forecast from state and tribal managers.

Since 1972, only 2009’s count is lower, 21,718

It will be interesting to learn how many of the fish made it from the locks through the Lake Washington Ship Canal and show up in the Cedar.

Spotchecks of Army Corps of Engineers data shows water temperatures in the Montlake Cut ranging from 70 to 74 degrees at 21 feet in mid-July, and nearing 70 degrees at 35 feet in recent days.

As we saw with Columbia sockeye in 2015, high temps make the salmon more vulnerable to disease and too-hot water can just kill them.

According to WDFW, since 2014, only 20 to 33 percent of sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the river.

Earlier this year an agency research scientist said that too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

In June 2017, sportangling advocate Frank Urabeck called for a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery if that year’s run were to reach 100,000 at the locks. It did, but nothing was opened.

The highest counts are 2006’s 418,015, a return helped by ridiculously high at-sea survival of smolts, 50 percent.

That was also the last year we fished the lake for sockeye, an 18-day season that provided an $8.6 million boost for the local economy.

To turn the situation around and hold another fishery would start with increased predator control in the lake for rearing smolts, good ocean conditions, a far stronger return than  this year’s and a way to get them around the too-warm ship canal.

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