A valve directing water to 100,000 young salmon was opened late Wednesday or early Thursday at the hatchery on Gorst Creek, and most died for lack of oxygen, said Ray Frederick of the Kitsap Poggie Club, which provides volunteers for the hatchery. Kitsap County sheriff's deputies were investigating.
"It takes an intentional act to open it," diverting the water away from the fish, Frederick said. "To open the valve as far as they did takes about five minutes."
"I'm still in shock from the whole thing," said Doug Nolan, who oversees the hatchery for the Suquamish, as he scooped thousands of dead fish out of the raceway with help from Frederick and Mike Huff, the tribe's hatchery manager.
In May more than 1.6 million baby chinook died at the hatchery. Investigators initially said a rain squall might have caused debris to plug a screen at the rearing pond, but Frederick said the fish kill discovered Thursday might indicate that the earlier one was from vandalism.
The intake flow valve was found in the normal position in May, but tribal officials who operate the hatchery also say the second fish kill has made them suspicious about the earlier one, although at that time the valve was found in the normal position.
The theory of a debris blockage was dubious from the start because the intake system had worked in far worse conditions and was not clogged when workers arrived, said Jay Zischke, the tribe's salmon program manager.
"We were groping for explanations on that one," Zischke said. "The difficulty in nailing it to vandalism was that everything was right when we got out there. Someone may have shut the water off and then turned it back on."
Tribal officials said they knew of no disgruntled employees who might have caused the fish kills, nor was there any other sign of damage.
An alarm system is being designed to provide warning of low water flow or low-oxygen conditions, Zischke added.
"This is a crushing blow to the enhancement guys," he said. "You put a lot of your daily energy into keeping these fish healthy, and then someone goes out and intentionally snuffs them. That's hard to take."
Chinook reared at Gorst are hatched at Grover's Creek after the spawning runs. About 230,000 fish survived the kill in May and 130,000 were released recently. The remaining 100,000 fish were to be fed until next March or April to encourage them to stay in Puget Sound for recreational fishing for immature chinook known as blackmouth.