Issaquah Fish Hatchery
Straddling the Issaquah Creek, the Issaquah Fish Hatchery is a government site dedicated to the continued restoration of local salmon populations. Completed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the hatchery was built in response to the rapid decline of salmon populations in the Puget area due to overfishing and pollution. The hatchery raises salmon as well as serves as a place where salmon return to from the Pacific Ocean to collect and raise their eggs. The site itself comprises a fish ladder with viewing windows, where during the fall, adult salmon can be seen making their way into the hatchery. It also has a bridge overlooking the creek and several “raceways” where young salmon and trout are kept and raised until maturity.
Backstory and Context
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Pacific Northwest was a region undergoing significant industrialization and urbanization. The newly completed transcontinental railways completed in the 1880s sparked a massive wave of settlers and entrepreneurs who sought to use the abundant resources for establishing livelihoods and settlements. Two industries that followed right behind the trail of the railways to the Puget region were logging and fishing. Breakthroughs in mechanization and the presence of railways allowed for production to skyrocket. Furthermore, the advent of trawling with large nets allowed for fish catches to increase from 5,000 cases of salmon in 1877 to more than 2,500,000 cases in 1913. While initially abundant, by 1890, salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were declining at an alarming rate, though it was not confirmed until the 20th century. As a result, salmon, like many other resources of Washington, were described as “vast and inexhaustible.” However, by the 1930s, the effects of overfishing, pollution in rivers, and newly built dams had culminated in an ecological disaster where salmon production and populations were both immensely reduced.
At the time, it was unclear how to go about dealing with the issue, as the ecological needs of salmon were not understood. As research was done, it became clear that raising more salmon to ensure stocks remained stable was the solution. While the first salmon hatchery in Washington state was built in 1895, they would not become effective until the mid-20th century when rearing methods were improved. In 1936, the Issaquah Fish Hatchery became one of the first hatcheries in King County and remained the only permanent fish hatchery operating in the Sammamish watershed until 2011. The hatchery was responsible for maintaining salmon stocks in the Issaquah Creek and Lake Sammamish. Some of the improved methods the fish hatchery used were raising the salmon for a total of a year to decrease the fry mortality rate and intentionally releasing young salmon to their native streams. These are methods that the hatchery continues to use to this day.
By 1951, the Issaquah hatchery was one of 15 hatcheries operating in the state, which altogether raised approximately 45 million salmon fry. Throughout the later 20th century, more extensive restoration efforts to rehabilitate salmon populations were undertaken on local and national levels through organizations such as the EPA. Also, during this time, more hatcheries and improvements to existing ones like the Issaquah hatchery were made to increase the amount of fish being raised and produced. The Issaquah Fish Hatchery is unique among other hatcheries as it is one of the few to allow public access to its grounds and to offer educational services to the community. In the 21st century, there are 100 fish hatcheries throughout Washington, with the Issaquah Hatchery handling more than 3,000,000 fish per year. While Salmon populations in the area have recovered from dwindling populations, some species, such as the Chinook Salmon are still listed as endangered or threatened in certain regions. Nevertheless, salmon is a significant icon to the Pacific Northwest’s economic, natural, and cultural history, and it is through the Issaquah Fish Hatchery and others like it that that history continues for years to come.
Babcock, Elizabeth. Puget Sound Chinook Salmon, National Atmospheric and Oceanic Organization. March 11th 2020. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/west-coast/endangered-species-conservation/puget-sound-chinook-salmon.
Hatchery Listing: Issaquah Hatchery, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/score/score/hatcheries/hatchery_details.jsp?hatchery=Issaquah%20Hatchery.
History of the Issaquah Fish Hatchery, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://www.issaquahfish.org/history/.
Industrialization, Technology, and Environment in Washington, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Pacific%20Northwest%20History/Lessons/Lesson%2014/14.html.
Salmon in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Collection, 1890-1961, University Libraries, University of Washington. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://content.lib.washington.edu/salmonweb/index.html.
Washington State Dept. of Fisheries. Salmon Crisis, University Libraries, University of Washington. Invalid date. Accessed April 23rd 2020. https://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/salmon/id/421.