Hood Canal Steelhead Project Entering Another Year

What is the Hood Canal Steelhead Project?

A volunteer checks one of HCSEG’s smolt traps for juvenile steelhead.

The Hood Canal Steelhead Project is a 16-year project (2007-2022) that aims to restore three steelhead populations in Hood Canal while evaluating the effectiveness of hatchery supplementation as a conservation strategy for steelhead. All Puget Sound steelhead, including those residing in Hood Canal, are currently listed as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Hood Canal Steelhead Project is unique in its objective to determine whether or not “artificial propagation [can] be utilized to increase a wild population’s abundance and productivity over the long term while preserving the genetic, demographic, and life history traits of the population.”

The project has three phases: pre-supplementation (2006—2010), during supplementation (2011—2018), and post-supplementation (2019—2022). This project follows the Before-After-Control-Impact experimental design, to test whether supplementation affects the aforementioned factors within natural steelhead populations. This means that both supplemented and controlled rivers are monitored for 4 years for baseline information prior to adult spawner contributions from hatcheries. Supplementation continues for 8 years, and then the rivers are monitored for a final 4 years to assess the long-term impacts of the project. Currently, the project is 5 years into the supplementation phase.

10155015_10152343195056940_1227491754_nThe Hood Canal Steelhead Project is an expansion of the Hamma Hamma River Steelhead Supplementation Project and includes three additional supplemented streams (Duckabush River, Dewatto River, Skokomish River) and three control streams (Little Quilcene River, Tahuya River, Big Beef Creek). The general strategy of this project is to collect fertilized eggs from naturally constructed redds in the Duckabush, Dewatto, and Skokomish Rivers (2007-2014). While many artificial propagation programs increase the abundance of adult fish, their strategies do not always ensure increases in natural spawning and productivity, and can pose risks for wild populations genetically, ecologically, and demographically. This project aims to minimize those risks, while utilizing the benefits hatcheries provide in recovering a species that, due to over-harvest, may not recover without intervention. This differs from many artificial propagation programs because the fish are able to spawn in the wild, thus preserving natural mate selection.  The fish are then reared in hatcheries until they are released back into their natal rivers. During this time, hatcheries use low-impact rearing techniques to minimize any negative influence hatchery rearing can have on the wild fish. A multi-agency collaboration including the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and other federal, state, and tribal agencies have been collecting data on the abundance and productivity of the populations, and characterizing life history and genetic properties of Hood Canal steelhead.

Before, during, and after supplementation, the project monitors adult and juvenile abundance, genetic composition, and life-history patterns in all study streams. The project is a large collaborative effort to conduct work on seven Hood Canal streams. The Salmon Center’s focus is to carry out field work on the Dewatto and Tahuya Rivers and smolt trapping on the Little Quilcene River.

Partners: NOAA Fisheries (lead agency), WDFW, Skokomish Tribe, Long Live the Kings, USFWS, USFS, Point No Point Treaty Council, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.


How is data collected and assessed?

HCSEG volunteers, interns, and staff triangulate redds in the Dewatto River.


Adult steelhead abundance estimates are based on redd surveys conducted weekly from February through June, approximately 2 times per week. (Redds are gravel nests where salmon and steelhead deposit and cover their eggs.)  Out-migrating juvenile salmonid abundance is monitored annually using rotary screw traps from late March through early June.

Genetics and Aging

Genetic samples are collected from summer parr, smolts, resident rainbow trout, and hatchery-reared fish to determine if genetic changes occur as a result of supplementation. Scale samples are collected for age determination.

Life-history Monitoring

Oncorhynchus mykiss exist as resident rainbow trout and anadromous steelhead, and this project is measuring the proportion of the two forms in different streams. Supplemented and control populations are sampled to determine if changes in the proportion of resident and anadromous fish occur as a result of hatchery supplementation.

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HCSEG intern Elise Idle sampling a juvenile steelhead.

Early Marine Migration and Survival

Using acoustic technology, steelhead early marine migration and survival is being investigated by NOAA Fisheries as part of the Hood Canal Steelhead Project. Over multiple years, acoustic transmitters were surgically implanted in steelhead smolts. Unique signals from the transmitters were detected by receivers located at river mouths, nearshore sites in Hood Canal, and transects in northern Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The information was analyzed to show migration patterns and survival rates.

Can I help?

Volunteers play an important part of smolt trapping and redd pumping! Not only will you be an essential assistant on this great recovery project, you will also gain knowledge in steelhead movement patterns and the diversity of their life history strategies, among many other fascinating things. If you are interested in the project, come join our efforts! Contact Seth at (360) 275-3575 x12, or email him.


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