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Everett estuary aims to boost salmon population

A small but very significant step toward improving the future for Puget Sound orcas happened Tuesday. Hundreds of acres farmland have been flooded and returned to salmon for spawning. The move has been two decades in the making and will help hungry whales feed for many years to come.

Nearly 400 acres around Everett's Smith Island were flooded Tuesday to become an estuary for the threatened Chinook salmon.

For 85 years it had been diked off for farming. Now, it is a critical habitat where baby salmon can mature, giving them a better chance at survival when they head to the saltwater.

“The salmon are now given the opportunity again to fatten up and spend their first year of their life in the estuary,” said Erik Stockdale, who has worked on this project for 15 years.

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This project started when the Chinook were placed on the "threatened" species list way back in 1999. Since then, the Chinooks' numbers have not improved.

It cost $30 million, two-thirds of which came from state and federal grants.

Habitat specialist Mike Rustay said the completion of the Smith Island project couldn't have come at a better time with recent reports of malnourished orcas in Northwest waters.

“This habitat will continue to evolve over time,” Rustay said. “We'll continue to get more salmon. Hopefully that will translate to more orcas.”

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For Stockdale, it gives him hope that what they’re doing is making a difference.

“The future is uncertain,” Stockdale said, “but we are doing everything we can.”

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