By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog
For the second year in a row, volunteer watchers tallied an exceptional number of coho spawners – 254! – in Fauntleroy Creek. This count exceeded last year’s 244 by 10, putting it in the No. 2 position behind 2012’s all-time high of 274.
Volunteers saw the first spawners in modern memory in 1994 and began organized watches in 1999. This year’s watch ran Oct. 16 – Nov. 22, with fish seen October 25 – November 15.
Why such a high number two years in a row? Veteran creek steward Dennis Hinton gives a lot of credit to human intervention.
“Three out of the last four years, volunteers have had to relocate drift logs at the creek mouth to ensure spawners could get in from Fauntleroy Cove. Most years, we’ve left them alone in the belief that they would float at high tide. This year’s log jam was especially tight, however. After we got the necessary state permit, Mark Sears led a work party in mid October to clear a path, then he and Tom Trulin checked the logs daily. This diligence paid off.”
Another likely factor, Dennis said, was that this was an especially good year for salmon returning to Puget Sound. A super pod of orcas (J, K, and L) was in the area for several days and they would not have been here without finding ample fish to eat.
Other factors: High tides, paired with low barometric pressure, gave spawners the lift they needed to enter the creek. And precipitation was sufficient to flush the creek so that they could smell fresh water.
The spawner number was not the only count of note.
“We had a real uptick in public awareness and volunteerism this year,” Dennis said. “More than two dozen watchers took turns documenting spawners and talking with visitors. Judy Pickens and Phil Sweetland opened their property so that an exceptional 440-plus people of all ages could get to creek level.”
Watchers noted where they saw spawning, and volunteers will be checking those locations this winter for “home hatch” fry to emerge from their gravel redds. They also noted a lot of fingerlings from last year’s spawning as well as cutthroat trout in for the thousands of coho eggs displaced when late spawners dug out the redds of early spawners.
To learn more about the creek, current volunteer opportunities, and the watershed stewardship fund for habitat maintenance, visit fauntleroywatershed.org.