By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog
The longest salmon watch since counting of coho spawners in Fauntleroy Creek started in 1999 ended Sunday with a near-record 244 fish.
The seven-week watch began in mid October, and a month later watchers were about to call it a day when the count stood at 10 – a typical number for this small creek. Then high tides, an “atmospheric river” weather system, and perhaps barometric pressure brought in the most spawners since 2012, when the tally was 274.
In advance of spawning season, the Fauntleroy Watershed Council secured a state permit to break up a log jam on the beach that likely would impede spawners from reaching the mouth of the creek near the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. Mark Sears led other volunteers in clearing the channel, then made adjustments throughout the watch to be sure it stayed clear.
The council’s annual drumming on October 10 drew about 30 people to call in spawners and initiate the watch. Seventeen volunteers, led by veteran watchers Dennis Hinton and Pete Draughon, counted spawners coming through the fish ladder into the spawning reach between 45th Ave. SW and Fauntleroy Way SW.
“Just getting 10 fish was worth celebrating, given that we had had only two last year,” Dennis said. “Then with an 11.5-foot tide on Nov. 15, the fish began pouring in.”
The council had hosted an open creek on October 30 on the assumption that the season was about to end. When the surge started, watchers began inviting visitors down to the spawning reach. A record 400+ people of all ages came, many multiple times, to see fish and learn about salmon behavior and habitat.
“It was an amazing watch by all counts,” Dennis said. “The spawners easily climbed the fish ladder and went on up to spawn, watchers faithfully showed up to count them, and visitors got to witness it all right in their neighborhood.”
Most hatcheries remove the adipose fin to distinguish the fish they rear from fish originating in the wild. Dennis estimated that at least a third of Fauntleroy Creek’s spawners this year were wild, and some of those could have been released here through the Salmon in the Schools program.