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Spawning salmon lure spotters

Friends of the Hylebos volunteers educate Salmon Watchers participants Oct. 4 on the various types of salmon found in Puget Sound waters.  - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Friends of the Hylebos volunteers educate Salmon Watchers participants Oct. 4 on the various types of salmon found in Puget Sound waters.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

From a footbridge above the Hylebos Creek, volunteers will document salmon fighting their way upstream in an attempt to spawn before perishing.

Friends of the Hylebos, Save our Fish Chapter of the Puget Sound Anglers and volunteers are working together in their ninth Salmon Watchers season to identify salmon in the creek. Volunteers will visit a bridge and count the salmon they spot.

The Friends use the information to ensure the community that Hylebos Creek still houses spawning fish, Friends restoration coordinator Hillary Kleeb said.

“We are documenting that we have salmon on this creek and they are a returning, vital population,” Kleeb said.

The Anglers hope to someday be able to identify trends in the returning salmon population and gauge how successful local restoration projects are, director Frank Urabeck said.

“Right now, all we can is say we’ve seen salmon in the creek,” he said.

Approximately 20 volunteers, from Federal Way and neighboring communities, are participating in the salmon watching this year. They will visit the location, which is located near 4th Street in Fife, and the head of the salmon’s journey from the Puget Sound to the Hylebos Creek. There, the volunteers will count and attempt to identify the fish they spot. Currently, most of the visible salmon are Chinook salmon, Urabeck said.

The group received training on what to look for Saturday. Volunteers gathered at the Soos Creek State Salmon Hatchery in Auburn to learn about the program. Rainy weather did not stop families, youngsters, Boy Scouts and fishermen, among others, from turning out to watch the traveling salmon. Kleeb explained the spawning cycle and answered questions.

Instinct tells the salmon to return to their original spawning grounds. Each year, the fish exit the salt water of the Puget Sound and swim upstream in fresh bodies of water. Usually they find their way home, but on occasion they do lose their way.

“While it’s true they come back to the creek they spawned in, it’s also true that sometimes they stray,” Kleeb said.

The transition from salt water to fresh water takes a while to get used to, Urabeck said. Volunteers witnessed this Saturday as the fish — averaging 26 inches in length — jumped and splashed about in the creek.

“They kind of give you a little show,” Urabeck said. “That’s what’s so neat about it.”

Once the fish spawn and eggs have been laid, the salmon die. During the spawning season, the carcasses can be seen floating or resting on the creek’s bed. The dead fish are important for the stream ecology, Kleeb said.

“When salmon decompose, they put nutrients in the water and this kind of builds the food chain,” Urabeck said.

The watchers will set aside two days per week to come watch the fish. In early September, the fish began appearing in the creek, Urabeck said. They will continue their journey until December or January, he said.

“It’s just great that we’ve seen this many fish this early in the system; hopefully that continues,” Urabeck said.

Following their progress will be a learning experience for some watchers and a chance to give back to the community for others. Federal Way resident Konrad Miernowski, 23, chose to volunteer in the Salmon Watchers program because he is a fish enthusiast. While living in Bellingham, he assisted in documenting the local population, and now he wants to continue the work here.

Helping the Friends and Anglers makes Miernowski feel a bit less guilty for being a fisherman, he said.

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Check it out:

To learn more about Friends of the Hylebos, visit the organization’s Web site at www.hylebos.org. To get involved with Friends of the Hylebos projects, e-mail Hillary Kleeb at streamteam@hylebos.org. To learn more about Save our Fish Chapter of the Puget Sound Anglers, visit the Web site www.saveourfish.org.

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