(WSB photo, May 2016: West Seattle Elementary group at Fauntleroy Creek with volunteer Dennis Hinton)
By Dennis Hinton, Fauntleroy Creek volunteer
Special to West Seattle Blog
After months of not knowing if the Fauntleroy Creek Salmon in the Schools program would continue uninterrupted as it has for more than 20 years, word came late last week that it will.
The program centers on coho fry released by schoolchildren. Ten elementary schools and three preschools in West Seattle receive coho eggs in January and students rear the fish while learning about biology, habitat, and the role of salmon in Pacific Northwest environment, commerce, and culture. Nearly 800 students came to the creek this past spring on release field trips, bringing 1,800 coho fry.
For the first time since 1991 when it started Salmon in the Schools, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife notified program coordinators six months ago that coho eggs might not be available for the 2016-17 term. Without them, participating West Seattle schools would have had to rear another salmon species for release elsewhere.
(WSB photo: Judy Pickens at Westside School on egg-delivery day last January)
“This news from the state was chilling to both teachers and creek volunteers,” said Judy Pickens. She and Phil Sweetland represent Fauntleroy Creek on the Salmon in the Schools – Seattle steering committee that coordinates the program for 71 schools in the city. “Without coho, the creek would have lost much of the life we’ve been working for 26 years to restore and the community would have lost a much-loved natural feature, a small taste of the wild in urban West Seattle.”
The state based its warning on last year’s meager return of coho spawners to Puget Sound and predictions of a low coho return this year. Warm water off the Oregon-Washington coast killed their prey and, without food, the fish that had survived predation and pollution to get that far died. No spawners came into Fauntleroy Creek last fall.
Based on early coho returns to area hatcheries, creek volunteers are cautiously optimistic about getting spawners this year. The annual drumming to call them in will be Sunday, October 30, at 5 pm at the fish-ladder viewpoint (SW Director and upper Fauntleroy Way SW).
Volunteers will start watching for spawners the following week when tides are high enough for the fish to have easy access to the mouth of the creek. Assuming veteran watchers spot fish, watch here for an invitation to join their ranks.