Kitsap’s salmon runs aren’t growing, but the tours that celebrate them are.
The number of salmon-watching tour sites in Kitsap County has grown from the three offered last year to seven scheduled this year. Attendance at Saturday’s tours could easily top 700.
“Interest just always seems to be growing,” said Renee Johnson, who coordinates the free tours for Washington State University’s Kitsap Extension service. “A lot of people return every year, but we always see people who are doing it for the first time. They’re amazed they can see so many salmon right from where they’re standing.”
Six creek-side tour sites are slated for Saturday at locations in Silverdale, Chico and just outside Bremerton. Salmon biologists, habitat restorationists and trained volunteers will be stationed at tour sites starting at 10 a.m.
The Poulsbo tour at Dog Fish Creek was held last weekend.
Four years ago, the tours drew just under 400 people. In 2014, about 725 people turned out.
“Then last year, it poured rain on the tour day,” Johnson said. “It was shocking anyone came out at all.”
Nearly 600 people braved the downpour to talk and watch salmon.
October’s record-breaking rainfall didn’t trigger the early rush of returning salmon some fisheries managers predicted. But rest assured they are coming, said Andy Rankis, the Suquamish Tribe’s marine fish program manager.
“Some of us fisheries managers thought the heavy (creek) flows would pull more (salmon) than it has,” he said. “But it’s a little early, perhaps, to have big numbers.”
The numbers began growing this week. By Saturday it should be easy to spot salmon thrashing upstream.
Chum make up most of the salmon returning to Kitsap’s creeks. About 525,000 chum are forecast for central and south Puget Sound. That’s a touch better than last year’s returns, but only about half of 2007’s levels.
Coho salmon are facing another tough year.
“The forecast this year is the same disaster as 2015,” Rankis said.
But the forecast might be a bit off, he said. Rankis surmised that the recent combination of tougher fishing restrictions and cooling ocean temperatures might give coho a boost.
The record 14.22 inches of October rainfall means salmon can push farther upstream and into tributaries that were too shallow last year and other dry years. Better distribution means less competition for prime spawning grounds.
“The more dispersed they are the less they bother each other,” Rankis said.
Johnson said the tours were expanded to highlight several recent projects aimed at improving salmon habitat. Recent work at the mouths of Chico and Clear creeks and along Dickerson Creek will be discussed at three of the new tours.
“There’s a lot of pride in what’s happening at these sites, and these (added) tours have grown out of that pride,” she said.