Puget Sound Blackmouth Salmon History

Definition : Blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound, are defined as immature Chinook salmon, up to the last year of their lives, at which time they start to sexually mature and develop egg or milt sacks.  At that time they would technically become Chinook. The gum line of the mouth of a Blackmouth & Chinook is black in color, hence the nickname, Blackmouth.

 Natural Cycle :Naturally wild Chinook spawn in rivers, not the smaller streams as do Coho.  The young Chinook depart for the salt water at between 2 to 3 months after they hatch.  In Washington state we have what are called right hand turning fish, which means when they enter the salt water they turn & head north for Canada & Alaska, where they spend the bulk of their lives growing for 3 to 5 years before they return to spawn.

 Puget Sound Fish : Some of the Puget Sound fish, may have been smarter, or lazy & found enough food in the sound, so they never left for northern waters.  In the early 1960s the Dept of Fisheries set out to duplicate by hatchery methods, a fish that would stay as a resident in the sound.  If this could be duplicated, we as sport fisherpersons could have a year around salmon fishery in the sound.  Frank Haw was selected for this job.  His extensive testing revealed that by releasing the fish from a hatchery facility one year after the normal time, (15 months of age), that a majority of these fish lost their instinct to migrate great distances, if the food chain is available to them. At this time these fish were being raised in Percival Cove, a fresh water impoundment in of Capitol Lake in Olympia.

In the early 1980s the tribes wanted their Bolt decision percentage of these Blackmouth.  This not being popular the department of fisheries, their interest in the project waned & production was reduced by about 50%. About this same time, the Olympia’s population increased on the west side, & with it, contaminated water runoff into Percival Cove.  Also the department in those days had a firearm permit from the city of Olympia, with which they could use shotguns to scare off / terminate wintering predatory birds.  The then mayor lived in the area above the cove, & apparently did not like the idea of firearms being used near his residential area.  The firearm permit was not renewed.

So the Blackmouth program was moved to net pens in the Squaxin Island area of Puget Sound in the mid 1980s.  However the fish never seemed to stay in the sound like they used to.  It took a few years to decide that for this program to function, the one year holding of the young Chinook had to be in fresh water, not salt water.

 Definition and  Explanation taken from a 1997 WDFW pamphlet:

  What is the Puget Sound Recreational Salmon and Marine Fish Enhancement Program?

 Created by the Washington Legislature in 1993, the program is designed to improve recreational fishing in Puget sound by taking specific actions.

First, the program is charged with raising and releasing into the waters of Puget Sound, yearling Chinook.  The goal is to raise and release 3 million yearling Chinook salmon from freshwater sites each year beginning in the year 2000.  These yearling Chinook are no different than any other Chinook in Puget sound, they are simply reared for a year rather than the usual 90 days prior to release.

This salmon production effort is to go forward while remaining constraints outlined in the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s developing Wild Salmonid Policy.  The yearling Chinook production level of 3 million fish was chosen because it represented a return to levels existing in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when Puget Sound sport Chinook catch was at a high.

Yearling Chinook have proven important to Puget Sound fishing for they tend to remain in the sound as they grow and mature while Chinook released as fingerlings tend to migrate to distant northern ocean waters.  Something about the delayed release makes yearling Chinook from five to seven times more likely to remain in Puget sound than had they been “normal timed” releases.  A large portion of yearling Chinook contribute to Puget Sound “Blackmouth” fisheries.  A “Blackmouth” is a term anglers use for an immature Chinook salmon.

 Far migrating Chinook are unavailable to Puget Sound fishers until summer and fall when most Chinook return to find their river of origin and spawn.  Because of the residency, yearling Chinook are available to anglers year around during the two or three years it takes for them to mature after release into Puget sound.

 In addition to the yearling Chinook raised in the freshwater sites under the Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and volunteer groups raise Chinook yearlings in saltwater net pen sites at locations around Puget Sound.  This saltwater net pen effort is not part of the Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program but contributes to the number of resident Chinook available to recreational fishers of Puget Sound.

A second aspect of the Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program is to solicit help from cooperative fisheries enhancement groups and other organizations.  The program is also charged with exploring salmon production opportunities  and investigating marine bottomfish production potential for Puget Sound.  The program is to also identify opportunities to reestablish salmon runs into areas where they no longer exist.

What Areas are Involved in the Program ?

The Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program applies to an area from the mouth of the Sekiu River on the Strait of Juan de Fuca into the southernmost regions of Puget Sound and Hood Canal.  This is the territory covered by catch record areas 5 thru 13 on anglers catch record cards.  Lake Washington is also included.

How is This Program Funded ?

Recreational fishers fund the program through a $10 annual fee paid as part of their Puget Sound fishing license.  Funds from this enhancement fee go into a special account held by the State Treasurers office and can be used only to enhance recreational fishing in Puget Sound in ways outlined by the legislature in the portions of the 1993 bill creating the program.  The fund, the Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Account has received over $2 million since the program began in 1994.

What Has Happened so Far ?

Since starting activity in 1994, the program has coordinated activities with an ad hoc citizen committee comprised of people representing Puget Sound fishing groups and the sportfishing industry.  This citizen “oversight committee” meets quarterly to review program activity and suggest directions for the program.

Yearling salmon production has been increased each year, steadily moving to the target release of 3 million yearlings in the year 2000.  In 1997 approximately 2.0 million Chinook will be released in a dozen rearing sites around Puget Sound, growing until their release in the spring of 1998.

The effort to increase yearling Chinook production has gone forward in a thoughtful science based manner, with rearing sites selected that will conform with the emerging wild Salmonid Policy.  Site selection has included locations in the north, central and southern portions of the Puget Sound basin.  Sites are selected where the yearling Chinook have the greatest chance of surviving a year of freshwater rearing.  Water quality and quantity are critical to a successful rearing site as it is security for the young salmon.  They need to be protected from predators, pollution, flood and drought, and vandals for the year they are held prior to release.

 In addition to finding sites for yearling Chinook, the program has worked on other matters important to the Puget Sound recreational fishing.  Joining with sport fishers, boaters and natural resource agencies, the program participated in efforts to arrange for the purchase of two important Puget sound boat access sites, Point No Point and Bush Point.  Funds for the purchases were secured through the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation (IAC), which manages un-reclaimed fuel taxes.  Securing these sites so they can be available for Puget Sound recreational interests far into the future is important as public assess points become more and more difficult to find around Puget sound.

WDFW has worked to determine the best approaches to improving the status of bottom fish stocks in Puget Sound.  Research and planning have been conducted by the department’s marine fish staff without funding from the Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program.  As scientists determine the best ways to halt the decline of Puget Sound marine fish, those  ideas will be incorporated into the program and specific enhancement efforts aimed at helping recreational interests begun.  So far no Recreational Enhancement Fund monies have been used to restore or enhance bottomfish populations.

Volunteers are Involved !

The program has initiated outreach and education efforts visiting fishing groups to outline and discuss program goals and direction and to hear from recreational fishers their ideas about Puget Sound fishing.  The program has also worked with sport fishing groups and schools providing opportunities for volunteers to get involved in ways that help them learn about Washington’s salmon resources.

Volunteers have helped fin clip Chinook being raised to the yearling stage at hatcheries on the Skykomish and Samish River systems.  Student volunteers have helped with adult capture and egg take at the Samish river holding pond where each fall nearly a million Chinook eggs are taken, fertilized and incubated.


                                                                        (End of 1997 pamphlet)


Funding Under the New Combined License System :

With the license consolidation, the $10.00 Puget Sound Enhancement stamp has been incorporated into the saltwater license, figured at 10% of all previous years sales of fishing, shellfish, etc.  This figured out for the year 2000 at $1.4 million, which was the Blackmouth enhancement portion.

Hatchery or Rearing Locations & Released Fish:

As of 1999 thru 2001, the rearing locations for yearling Chinook are the following:

(1)   Orcas Island (Long Live the Kings)  — 200,000

(2)   WDFW Samish Hatchery – 100,000

(3)   WDFW Skykomish / Wallace River Hatchery – 250,000

(4)   Suquamish Tribal Hatchery (Gorst Ponds)  — 100,000

(5)   WDFW Green river Hatchery (Icy Creek)  —  300,000

(6)   WDFW South Tacoma Hatchery (Chambers Creek) – 100,000

(7)   WDFW McAllister Creek Hatchery (Nisqually Trout Farm & Puyallup Hatchery)  — 300,000

(8)   Lilliwap (LLK) – 50,000

(9)   WDFW Hoodsport Hatchery – 250,000

(10)   Rick Endicott Pond, (Skokomish) – 75,000

(11)   Lakewood – 200,000


                                              Totals for Yearling Chinook Production under this program

        1994              1995             1996             1997            1998             1999              2000            2001

      800,000       1,370,000      1,776,000    1, 950,000    2,400,000     1,925,000     1,925,000    1,925,000

 There sometimes is a difference between goals & the actual release numbers, depending on a multitude of things.

The yearly production started off lower because full funding from the program was not received until the sales of the licenses had came in.  Also, the egg take for the following years production had to be planned for and worked into the hatcheries production schedule.

Chinook eggs hatch 50 days after fertilization, & after consuming the yolk-sac they are moved to the rearing ponds.  They are released into salt water in April the following year at about 15 months and average 8 fish to the pound.

When releasing these yearlings, it is done at night, to help alleviate a potential problem of predators, both marine mammals & sea birds.

A large percentage of these fish are raised in the South Sound area.  However after being released, these fish tend to move north where candle fish / herring, etc. are more abundant.  This area will normally be in the northern sound.

In the spring of 2002, the State Department of Ecology did not renew the WDFW pollution permit at that rearing site on Percival Cove in Olympia where 200,000 yearlings per year were raised.  The reason was fish food and food wastes contain nitrogen & phosphorus, which in the summer’s low flow time in Capitol Lake robs the oxygen & creates algal blooms.

Clipped Adipose Fin:

The legislature ordered that all Chinook be marked.  However the actual percentage is now about 85% in Puget Sound.  The normal method is to clip the adipose fin.  The old hand clipping method required the young fish be anesthetized, hand clipped & returned to the tanks. This method could not accommodate the large numbers of small fish in the required time frame.

Frank Haw invented a mechanical mass marking “Black Box” that has a water chute leading in & back out.  No anesthetization required & a lot faster.  Otherwise the fish have to be lightly anesthetizeized  & each fish hand clipped with small scissors.

 There are problems in clipping young salmon.

(1)   The small amount of time (about 3 weeks) that the Chinook fry are large enough at the hatchery after they hatch & are ready to leave for their journey.

(2)   The tribes do not benefit from clipping, therefore they seem to be dragging their feet, meanwhile the ESA listings are hanging over WDFW’s head.  Also WDFW has to negotiate with each tribe for this marking of salmon.

About 85% of the total Blackmouth are clipped in Puget Sound area, with Hood Canal among those not being clipped. Therefore nothing is consistent & many Chinook are not clipped that you will find in the inland waters.

One fisherman noted that in the fall 2000 & spring season of 2001 at Port Townsend, that he knew of 60 fish taken, with only 4 of them clipped.  This situation could possibly be attributed to the 15% that are not clipped are Hood Canal fish since this area is close to the entrance to the canal, and this is their feeding ground. Or it could be that these may indeed be “Wild” fish, or more likely a combination thereof.  In either case it is impossible for the fisherperson to determine which is the origin, and what the impact is on an ESA listed fish.

Why do the Fish Not Stay in Some Areas?

The herring, which is the natural food for these salmon need food for themselves and places that they can forage in areas with not a lot of tidal movement.  One important thing is that krill should be in the waters at release time for a transition food. This food won’t stay in a swift current.  Herring tend to move to the lee side of a point, or island with each tide.  Where there is food there should also be salmon.

In the mid 1960s there were lots of Blackmouth in the South Sound, (Johnson Point, & Anderson Island).  Now, (2000s) very few seem to stay in this area.  There have not been extensive studies made, but it seems logical, all other things accounted for, that the salmon will only stay where the food is.  There seems to be a lack of year around herring in the South Sound.  It is not sure whether the zooplankton & shrimp are a depleted stock, which the herring feed on.  Or that other things may be effecting this cycle. One thing that is apparent is the INCREASE IN MARINE MAMMALS in this area.  This could account for both a decline in the herring as food & the salmon themselves.

Also if the yearling salmon are released in the south sound & they do not find enough food at that particular time of the year, they will go to where the food is.  They may just be smart enough to stay where they find the food & not even consider moving back.

One fisherman observed that while fishing the South Sound in 2000, that every concentration of bait (herring) he saw, that he also saw at least 6 to 10 seals near.

The Fish Concentrate in Certain Areas at Different Times of the Year:

There are basic rules for salmon fishing.  The number one rule is “fish where the fish are”.

These fish tend to concentrate at the following areas, but remember that they are essentially following the food:

Candlefish spawn in gravel, look at gill plates of Chinook –  if they are digging these candlefish & sand lance out of the gravel their gill plates will be scarred.  This time of the year you need to fish within 5’ of the bottom.

Time tables

Sekiu:                        Feb.

Point Defiance:      during the spring & summer

Midchannel bank:  during spring

San Juans:                 December, early spring

Fox Island:                 late spring

Chambers Creek       fall

Manchester:              spring

 Hood Canal:              early spring & mid August

 Releasing Undersize Fish:

The one thing the sport fisherperson has going for him, is that he/she has the ability to release undersize or unclipped fish.  This may well be the one thing that we can use to his advantage & allow him/her to fish when the season would otherwise be closed.

 To release fish with the lease amount of harm, use the WDFW 22” dowel with the hook on one end.  (this will be explained in detail )

Oversight Committee :

The Blackmouth program as covered by SB 2055 has an oversight committee that meets & offers comments & direction to the overseer & WDFW for this program.

Offshoot of SB 2055 :

There is an experimental hatchery program being run at Manchester that is working on hatching & rearing Lingcod.

Summary :

Blackmouth released under this program serve a twofold purpose.  They provide a summer fishery after they achieve 22”, which equates to about a 4#, 2 ½ year old fish.  And in the fall of the following years when they become more sexually mature, they provide another fishery near the mouths of the creeks/rivers that they were raised.  Because of the ongoing releases, these two fisheries do overlap.

These fish can mature at different years, therefore you will get a mature 3 year old fish that weighs 7-8# & a mature 4 year old fish at 12-18#.  A 5 year old fish will of course be larger yet, but these amount to only about 5% of the total.

They do run somewhat in schools, but not necessarily by size only, as they tend to mix.

A small amount do stray into different rivers than reared near at spawning times.  This may be mother natures way of propagating a river that had natural devastation as a flood & silt at about hatching time, etc.

The reason for the closure on the sound in the winter/spring is that since not all of the Chinook are clipped, the fisherperson can not tell if they do catch a endangered wild Chinook, say from the White River system, which do also tend to stay somewhat locally.

The reason that Sekiu gets low openings is that they are the gateway to the returning fish & home to some Blackmouth.  With this in mind the returning unmarked (wild) fish for the whole sound & lower parts of Canada are what the season is geared around to protect.

Total sport fisherman hook mortality will average 8-15%.  It has been noted to be lowest in the ocean.  And in the higher percentage in the estuaries as the salmon get closer to spawning.  There has not been any scientific data compiled on the WDFW “dehooker”, however the agency believes it will help versus netting & handling the fish.

Recommended reading is the paperback book “Saltwater Fishing in Washington” by Frank Haw, & published by Stan Jones.



SB 2055 :

 In 1993 Senators Bob Oke & Brad Owen teamed up & put a bill thru the legislature establishing a $10  Puget Sound Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program.  This essentially directed the Department of Fisheries to establish & implement the following program.

This new bill starting at section 81, states:


       NEW SECTION.    Sec. 81.   Sections 1 through 6 of this act shall constitute a new chapter in Title 43 RCW.

       NEW SECTION.    Sec. 82.   The legislature finds that recreational fishing opportunities for salmon and marine bottomfish have been dwindling in recent years.  It is important to restore diminished recreational fisheries and to enhance the salmon and marine bottomfish resource to assure sustained productivity.  Investments made in recreational fishing programs will repay the people of the state many times over in increased economic activity and in an improved quality of life.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 83.    There is created within the department of fish and wildlife the Puget Sound recreational salmon and marine fish enhancement program.  The department of fish and wildlife shall identify a coordinator for the program who shall act as spokesperson for the program and shall:

(1)      Coordinate the activities of the Puget Sound recreational salmon and marine fish enhancement program, including the Lake Washington salmon fishery.

(2)      Provide reports as needed to the legislature and the public; and

(3)      Work within and outside of the department to achieve the goals stated in this chapter.

       NEW SECTION.     Sec. 84.    The department shall:  Develop a short term program of hatchery-based salmon enhancement using freshwater pond sites for the final rearing phase;  solicit support from cooperative projects, regional enhancement groups, and other supporting organizations;  conduct comprehensive research on resident and migratory salmon production opportunities;  and  conduct research on marine bottomfish production limitations and on methods for artificial propagation of marine bottomfish.

        Long-term responsibilities of the department are to;  Fully implement enhancement efforts for Puget Sound and Hood Canal resident salmon and marine bottomfish;  identify opportunities to reestablish salmon runs into areas where they no longer exist; encourage naturally spawning salmon populations to develop to their fullest extent;  and fully utilize hatchery programs to improve recreational fishing.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 85.  The department shall seek recommendations from persons who are experts on the planning and operation of programs for enhancement of recreational fisheries.  The department shall fully use the expertise of the University of Washington college of fisheries and the sea grant program to develop research and enhancement programs.

       NEW SECTION.    Sec. 86.  The department shall develop new locations for the freshwater rearing of delayed-release Chinook salmon.  In the calendar year 1994, at least one freshwater pond Chinook rearing site shall be developed and begin production  in  each of the following areas:  South Puget Sound, central Puget Sound, north Puget Sound, and Hood Canal.  Natural or artificial pond sites shall be preferred to net pens due to the higher survival rates experienced from pond rearing.  Rigorous predatory bird control measures shall be implemented.  The goal of the program is to increase production and planting of the delayed release Chinook salmon to a level  of three million fish annually by the year 2000.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 87.  The department shall conduct research, develop methods, and implement programs for the artificial rearing and release of marine bottomfish species, Lingcod, halibut, rockfish, and Pacific cod shall be the species of priority emphasis due to their importance in the recreational fishery.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 88.   The department shall undertake additional research to more fully evaluate improved enhancement techniques, hooking mortality rates, methods of mass marking, improvement of catch models, and sources of marine bottomfish mortality.  Research shall be designed to give the best opportunity to provide information that can be supplied to real-world recreational fishing needs.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 89.  The department shall work with the department of ecology, the department of wildlife, and local government entities to streamline the siting process for new enhancement projects.  The department is encouraged to work with the legislature to develop statutory changes that enable expeditious processing and granting of permits for fish enhancement projects.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 90.  The department’s information and education section shall develop a public awareness program designed to educate the public on the elements of the recreational fishing program and to recruit volunteers to assist the department in implementing recreational fishing projects.  Economic benefits of the program shall be emphasized.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 91.  The department shall increase efforts to document the effects of bird predators, harbor seals, sea lions, and predatory fish upon salmon and the marine resource.  Every opportunity shall be explored to convince the federal government to amend the marine mammal protection act to allow for a balanced management of predators, as well as to work with the United States fish and wildlife service to achieve workable control measures for predatory birds.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 92.  Indian tribal fishing interests and non-commercial fishing groups shall be invited to participate in development of plans for selective fisheries that target hatchery-produced fish and minimize catch of naturally spawned fish.  In addition, talks shall be initiated  on the feasibility of altering the rearing programs of department hatcheries to achieve higher survival and greater production of Chinook and coho salmon.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 93.  The department shall coordinate the sport fishing program with the wild stock initiative to assure that the two programs are compatible and potential conflicts are avoided.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 94.  The department shall develop plans for increased recreational access to salmon and marine fish resources.  Proposals for new boat launching ramps and pier fishing access shall be developed.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 95.  The department shall contract with private consultants, aquatic farms, or construction firms, where appropriate, to achieve the highest benefit-to-cost ratio for recreational fishing projects.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 96.  The requirements and provisions of this chapter are to be performed in addition to and not at the expense of existing salmon programs of the department.  Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize the department to advocate or to improve recreational fishing at the expense of commercial fishing or to increase recreational enhancement to the detriment of commercial enhancement.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 97.  Beginning January 1, 1994, persons who recreationally fish for salmon or marine bottomfish in marine area codes 5 through 13 and Lake Washington shall be assessed an annual recreational surcharge of ten dollars, in addition to the other licensing requirements.  Funds from the surcharge shall be deposited in the recreational fisheries enhancement account created in section 98 of this act, except  that the first five hundred thousand dollars shall be deposited in the general fund before June 30, 1995, to repay the appropriation made by section 104, chapter. . . . . , Laws of 1993  (section 104 of this act).

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 98.  The recreational fisheries enhancement account is created in the state treasury.  All receipts from section 97 of this act shall be deposited in this account.  Moneys in the account may be spent only after appropriation.  Expenditures from the account may be used only for recreational fisheries enhancement programs.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 99.  A new section is added to chapter 75.08 RCW to read as follows:  The department may adopt rules pertaining to harvest of fish and wildlife in the federal exclusive economic zone by vessels or individuals registered or licensed under the laws of this state.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 100.  The department shall develop and present to the legislature, no later than January 1, 1994, proposed legislation for recreational fishing capitol facilities improvement program financed through general obligation bonds.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 101.  (1) As used in sections 82 through 100 of this act, “department of fish and wildlife” means the department of fisheries.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 102.  Sections 1 through 6, 8 through 59, and 61 through 79 of this act shall take effect July 1, 1994.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 103.  Sections 83 through 98 of this act shall constitute a new chapter in Title 75 RCW.

      NEW SECTION.     Sec.104.  The sum of five hundred thousand dollars, or as much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated for the biennium ending June 30, 1995, from the general fund to the recreational fisheries enhancement account created in section 98 of this act for the purpose of achieving early implementation of this act.   Funds appropriated by this section shall be repaid to the general fund from the proceeds of the surcharge established in section 97 of this act.  Repayment shall occur before June 30, 1995.

     NEW SECTION.     Sec. 105.  Sections 7, 60, 80, and 82 through 100 of this act are necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and shall take effect July 1, 1993

      NEW SECTION.     Sec. 106.  If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.


  END —



Much of the above information was taken from published 

WDFW data and a presentation given at PSA meetings

by Tony Floor, blackmouth program manager of WDFWbefore his retirement


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