It's not too late to see sockeye salmon swarming through the fish ladders at the Ballard Locks.
Sockeye salmon still surging at locks
Photo via Creative Commons, by Ingrid Taylor
Updated with quotes from Steven Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager of the Washington State Fish & Wildlife Department.
Visitors at the Hiram M. Chittendem Locks will likely receive a nice surprise: sockeye salmon are cramming their way through the fish ladders, causing for a brilliant aquarium-like spectacle of fish.
As of July 8, the number of sockeye salmon that have passed through the Ballard Locks reached the 100,000 mark, according to a count conducted by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. The pre-season forecast was only 46,000.
The count, which is now just under 120,000, is just starting a slow downward curve. July 7, also called the "50 percent day," is typically the peak of the season, said Steven Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager at the Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Still, this year is upsetting a trend of almost historically low counts. Last year, a total of only 42,000 sockeye were counted. In 2009, 21,000. And in 2008, 33,000.
It is not clear why the count has been so low in the past. While some have conjectured it was due to the poor condition of Lake Washington, Thiesfeld said that it was not necessarily the lake that was causing for low counts. Fish mortality rates in the ocean, too, could have something to do with the counts.
In any case, the uptick this year seems to be the result of something happening in the ocean, Thiesfeld said. Columbia River and Baker Lake both seem to be having higher-than-normal counts, too, meaning that whatever the cause, it is probably not specific to individual lakes and rivers.
Anglers were hopeful at the beginning of the run that the count goal of 350,000 would be reached. Once that number is surpassed, sports fishing is possible.
However, now past the 50 percent date, that number now seems unattainable.
"Not even close," Thiesfeld said. "You’d have to have a tremendous turnaround of the numbers coming through the locks."
If he had to make a prediction today, Thiesfeld said the count will probably come in around 200,000.
Still, nothing is set in stone until the last fish passes through.
“Anytime you try and predict what mother nature is doing, you can get yourself in trouble," Thiesfeld said.