After being away for two years, thousands of sockeye salmon have returned to Baker Lake to mingle at the fish hatchery in Skagit County.
"This is essentially a singles bar for salmon," Ryan Blood, manager at the hatchery run by Puget Sound Energy, said. "They get together, pair up, and they fertilize eggs."
Two years ago, hatchery officials released about 750,000 juvenile sockeye into the wild. They made their way to the ocean and are now returning to Baker Lake to spawn. So far, 16,000 have come back. Officials are expecting upwards of 30,000 by the end of the season.
That may not sound like a lot, but consider just 99 sockeye returned in 1985.
Officials rank this return at the seventh best ever at Baker Lake.
That's good news because all those fish will be making even more babies to be released in the future.
PSE biologist Arnie Aspelund is impressed with the numbers he's seeing.
"We're growing the population in Baker Lake and we're seeing the results of this restoration in dividends," he said.
That means more fish at your summertime cookouts, and more for orcas and other wildlife to eat.
And the news gets better.
Earlier this year Baker Lake biologists released a record 1.1 million juvenile sockeye into the wild. They're expecting a record return of more than 52,000 in 2019.
"Years ago, we conceived that these levels might be possible and now here we are today actually achieving those levels," Aspelund said. "The future bodes very well."
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