Fish Studies

Adult salmon return from the ocean to spawn in freshwater streams. Depending on the salmon species, adults are usually between three and five years old when they return to reproduce. Once they spawn, they usually die within a week. The adult salmon carcasses play a crucial role in the aquatic food web by providing essential nutrients to the stream. These nutrients feed plants and macro invertebrates which in turn feed young fish in the spring. The City of Bellingham Natural Resources Division conducts spawning surveys in Baker, Squalicum, Whatcom, Padden, and Cemetery creeks. In fall and winter, spawning fish are monitored by walking surveys. In spring, out-migrating juvenile fish are monitored using smolt traps.

Spawner Surveys

Spawner surveys are conducted to better understand how, when and where salmon use our streams. This information allows the City to be a good steward of the salmon habitat that weaves throughout Bellingham. When conducting a survey, surveyors walk upstream while recording the number and species of live and dead fish. Surveyors also record the location of redds (nests) and determine which species made the redd. The surveys are conducted once every 7-10 days through the spawning season (September – March). Surveys also assess potential blockages to fish passage.

Padden Creek

Two reaches of Padden Creek were surveyed during 2007-2008. The first began upstream of the culvertFish on 24th street and Old Fairhaven Parkway and continued to the culvert on 30th street that runs under Old Fairhaven Parkway. This site is restricted due impassable downstream culvert. The second survey occurred in Fairhaven Park, starting at the west edge of the park and continuing to the fish ladder. Both reaches are 0.2 miles long. Previous surveys began upstream of the culvert on Harris Avenue and continued to the culvert running under Fairhaven Parkway. The survey reach was 0.8 miles long.  Padden creek is a great place to see Coho, Chinook, Chum and Steelhead, as well as resident and sea-run Cutthroat Trout.

Squalicum Creek

The 2007-2008 spawning surveys began at the Eldridge Street bridge running above Squalicum Parkway and continued to the culvert running under Squalicum Parkway. The reach length is 0.5 miles. Previous surveys started at the railroad bridge just upstream of Roeder Avenue and continued to the sand stone outcropping in Cornwall Park. The surveys reach was 1.8 river miles long. When conducting trout surveys, the survey reach continues to the beaver dam at river mile 2.0.  The Squalicum Creek system supports Coho, Chum, Steelhead, Cutthroat and Pink Salmon.

Baker Creek

In 2007-2008, the survey reach started at the culvert underneath the road accessing the Bayfield Mobile Home Court south of Telegraph Road and continued 550 feet to the upstream end of the riparian restoration site, encompassing a distance of 0.2 miles. Previous surveys of Baker Creek started from the confluence with Squalicum Creek to the north side of Bellingham Golf and Country Club. Baker Creek supports Coho and Chum Salmon.

Whatcom Creek

FishFor 2007-2008, the survey reach began at the Whatcom Creek sewer crossing east of the I-5 highway (River mile 1.2) and continued to a set of falls east of Woburn Street bridge (River mile 2.5). However, due to high flows and visibility most of the survey reach was ended at the Valencia Street bridge (River mile 2.0). The survey reach ranged from 0.8 to 0.5 miles. Past surveys started under the southbound I-5 Bridge (River mile 1.0) and continued to Woburn Street Bridge (River mile 1.9). That survey reach was 0.9 river miles long.  Whatcom Creek supports Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Steelhead, and Cutthroat species.

Cemetery Creek

In 2007-2008, the second year of spawning surveys were completed for the recently created pond/stream network at the north end of Cemetery Creek. The survey began at the mouth of Cemetery Creek and continued east and south to end of the restoration site. The entire survey length was 0.5 miles. Prior to 2006, there were no spawner surveys for this site.  A Chinook carcass and a possible Coho were seen in Cemetery Creek during 2007-2008.

Chuckanut Creek

The bridge that crosses the creek in Arroyo Park is a great place to observe adult salmon coming to spawn and juvenile salmon heading to sea. This creek, with the largest visible run of Chum, is an exciting place for visitors to catch a glimpse of spawning salmon in a beautiful natural setting.  An agreement with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was established in 2001, splitting the responsibility for the survey reach into two segments. The City of Bellingham does not currently complete spawner surveys on Chuckanut Creek. The past survey reach began at the estuary and continued for 2.1 river miles to the waterfalls above Lake Samish Road, which marks the end of available spawning habitat.  Chuckanut Creek supports Coho, Chinook, Chum, Steelhead, and Cutthroat Trout.

Smolt Trap Surveys

SmoltA "smolt" is one of the life stages of a juvenile salmon. This life stage occurs when the juvenile salmon begins its migration from freshwater to the estuary and adjusts to living in saltwater. Different Pacific salmon species spend different amounts of time rearing in freshwater. For example, Coho salmon spend one to two years rearing in freshwater after they emerge from the gravel as fry. They reach about 50-100 millimeters in size before they smolt and begin migration to the estuary. The timing of this movement correlates with spring freshets (high water flow from snow melt or spring rains).

A smolt trap is a standardized method of quantifying how many fish are moving through a water system.  Smolt trapThe trap is designed to capture juvenile out-migrating fish during the spring. The trap is a stream-wide V-shaped corral that points downstream. The structure funnels fish into the vertex and box while allowing flow to continue downstream. The holding box is used so fish can be safely held onsite until they are identified and released. An upstream trap/pipe is installed to allow passage of spawning fish. The traps are checked multiple times daily, with fish species identified and counted.

Smolt traps have been located in Baker, Spring, Cemetery, and Squalicum Creeks.