Salmon spawning in Barnaby Slough

By Amber Parmenter, Puget Sound Stewardship Coordinator

The mighty Skagit River supports all of Washington’s native salmon and trout species, including about 60 percent of the state’s wild Chinook salmon. It’s upriver sloughs and backwater areas provide important freshwater spawning and rearing habitat for anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead. Two of TNC’s preserves along the Skagit are involved in a multi-phase restoration project being implemented by Skagit River System Cooperative (natural resource management for the Sauk-Suiattle and Swinomish Tribes) along with land owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seattle City Light.

This summer, SRSC completed phase one of the project! This phase included the removal of old steelhead hatchery infrastructure and removal of rearing pond dikes, opening flow to a portion of Barnaby Reach that has been blocked since the early 1960’s. I went out to see the construction in progress and was struck by just how much work was being done in the area. It looked like a completely different place as the construction crew erased the old infrastructure.

Dike removal at Barnaby Reach this summer © Amber Parmenter/ TNC

After the construction work, mats and wattles were set out to prevent sediment-laden runoff and we entered the sit and wait period. It will take some time for the site to re-vegetate and settle back into its old ways of being. 

In early November, we received an update from SRSC’s research scientist on the project. Coho had started to spawn in the east end of the slough! When salmon spawn, the female dislodges gravel with her tail to dig a small hollow for egg-laying. This creates a visible “clean” spot in the gravel bed called a redd. Observers documented adult salmon on two separate surveys and photographed a nice clear redd. SRSC researchers are eager to get out and assess the condition of the slough after the intense flooding earlier this month. 

Coho redd in Barnaby Slough © Catherine Austin/ SRSC

It was nice of the salmon to show us almost immediately that this habitat was needed and that they were going to use it. But, seriously this is really encouraging. Stay tuned for more updates on this incredibly important salmon work in the upper Skagit.

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