Baker River Sockeye Return Dwarfs Historic Average

PSE's Fisheries Investments Contributing to Stronger Baker Sockeye Runs

BELLEVUE, Wash., September 23, 2010 - Sockeye salmon returned to the Baker River this year in record numbers – a mark that fisheries managers hope to see eclipsed again and again in coming years.

More than 22,500 adult sockeye migrated up Northwest Washington's Skagit and Baker rivers this summer, dwarfing the historic average of 3,000. The 2010 total includes 18,715 sockeye that returned to Puget Sound Energy's new trap-and-haul facility in Concrete, and approximately 3,800 caught by commercial and recreational fishers.

The river's previous sockeye-return record came in 2003, when 20,236 sockeye entered PSE's trap and 731 others were harvested in the river.

While favorable ocean conditions likely contributed to 2010's big run, fisheries biologists note that eight of the river's 10 highest sockeye returns on record have occurred since the mid-1990s. That upswing, they add, is probably owed more to PSE's fisheries investments and collaborative salmon-enhancement efforts than to environmental influences.

"Salmon runs can fluctuate dramatically from year to year for a variety of reasons," said Cary Feldmann, a senior biologist and manager of Compliance and Resource Sciences for PSE. "But the strong numbers we've been seeing, with regularity, over the past 15 years indicate there's more at play here than Mother Nature. The evidence suggests that PSE's collaborative investments in protecting fish are making a big difference."

As part of the utility's license to operate its Baker River Hydroelectric Project, PSE has launched a number of major fish-enhancement projects in recent years in collaboration with state and federal natural-resource agencies and local Indian tribes.

Early this summer, PSE finished building a new, more advanced fish trap for collecting adult salmon and hauling them upstream, by "fish taxi," around the utility's two Baker River hydroelectric dams. In addition, the utility this summer completed a new, expanded Baker River fish hatchery.

In the early 1990s, PSE built a "spawning beach" alongside Baker Lake to provide salmon a predator-free environment for spawning. The facility – essentially a series of man-made, gravel-bottom pools fed by a nearby spring – is now undergoing a major upgrade by PSE.

The hatchery and spawning-beach complex are capable of producing 11 million salmon fry – four times the old hatchery's limit. With capacity for expansion, they eventually could produce 14 million fry.

Two years ago the utility completed construction of an innovative and award-winning "floating surface collector" on Baker Lake for gathering juvenile salmon and hauling them downstream around PSE's two Baker River dams. In 2009, the 1,000-ton apparatus set a new record for downstream migration of young Baker River sockeye. This past spring, it broke the record again, with more than 520,000 juvenile salmon drawn into the collector and transported by truck around the dams for their journey to sea.

In 2013, PSE will complete a floating surface collector on Lake Shannon similar to the one on Baker Lake, providing enhanced transport of juvenile salmon around Lower Baker Dam. As a result, the Lake Shannon reservoir could become, like Baker Lake, a strong habitat for sockeye propagation.

Because of PSE's fisheries investments and collaborative efforts, Baker River sockeye runs of 50,000 to 75,000 are not unrealistic to expect in coming years, according to agency biologists.

For more information about PSE's fish-enhancement efforts, visit PSE.com and click on the Energy & Environment tab.

About Puget Sound Energy

Washington state's oldest local energy utility, Puget Sound Energy serves more than 1 million electric customers and nearly 750,000 natural gas customers in 11 counties. A subsidiary of Puget Energy, PSE meets the energy needs of its growing customer base through incremental, cost-effective energy efficiency, procurement of sustainable energy resources, and far-sighted investment in the energy-delivery infrastructure. PSE employees are dedicated to providing great customer service and delivering energy that is safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and environmentally responsible. For more information, visit www.PSE.com.

Contact information

Puget Sound Energy
Roger Thompson, 1-888-831-7250