Category Archives: Hood Canal

Steelhead could be running into a trap at the Hood Canal Bridge

Fishermen fish for salmon north of the Hood Canal bridge, but researchers say the bridge may be an obstacle to the migration of young steelhead. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall
Fishermen fish for salmon north of the Hood Canal bridge last week, while researchers say the bridge could be an obstacle to the migration of young steelhead. // Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

I’ve often wondered if the Hood Canal bridge might be an obstruction for killer whales, which could simply choose to back away from the wall of floating pontoons, which are anchored to the seabed by a confusing array of crisscrossing cables. Old-timers have told me that orcas used to come into Hood Canal more frequently before the bridge was built.

What I never considered seriously, however, was that the bridge could be an obstacle for fish as well. In Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, I wrote about recent findings from a study tracking juvenile steelhead by means of implanted acoustic transmitters. The study was conducted by researchers at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

GraphicTemp

The bottom line is that something is happening at the bridge, where many of the transmitters either disappeared or winded up staying in one place near the bridge, continuing to send out their signals for weeks. The leading hypothesis is that seals or other predators are eating the young steelhead, and some of the acoustic tags are being digested and excreted near the bridge.

Why the bridge serves as an obstacle to steelhead remains unclear. But other studies have suggested that steelhead swim near the surface. As they move out of the canal, the fish may encounter the bridge pontoons as a physical barrier, since the concrete structures go down 12 feet underwater. Also, currents around the pontoons could be a strange condition for the fish. If a young steelhead slows down in the process, a harbor seal or other predator could be waiting to take advantage of the situation.

We’ve all heard about sea lions capturing adult salmon by hanging out at fish ladders at Seattle’s Ballard Locks in Seattle or at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Maybe the same thing is happening at the Hood Canal bridge with smaller prey as the target of the marine mammals.

I was also intrigued by an analysis conducted by Tarang Khangaonkar, a researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Seattle. He told me that in all the models of circulation in Puget Sound and Hood Canal, the bridge tended to be ignored. Since the pontoons go down 12 feet, the bridge disrupts the relatively thin low-salinity surface layer moving out of Hood Canal.

Tarang calculates that the bridge could reduce the circulation by 10 percent or more, which has serious implications, not just for steelhead at the bridge but for the ecological health of all of Hood Canal.

“We have to examine what the bridge is doing,” Tarang told me. “It slows the entire system down. Water quality is maintained in Puget Sound by the flushing effect, which flushes the system out and maintains a balance. Our preliminary finding is that it could slow down by about 10 percent. That effect is cumulative.”

The bridge, he said, could effectively create a more stagnant body of water, where oxygen can become depleted. More study is needed, he said.

Most of the folks I interviewed for this story agreed that the first priority for further research was to see what is happening to the steelhead — and possibly chinook and chum salmon — at the bridge. Studies could focus on the fish, predators and currents at the bridge.

The project is gaining support, but it could require a special legislative appropriation of about $2 million.

Student project could lead to official state oyster

Nobody was really talking about designating an official “Washington state oyster” until 14-year-old Claire Thompson came along. Now the state Senate has approved a bill, on a 47-1 vote, to list the Olympia oyster as the state’s official oyster.

Claire is an eighth grader at Olympia’s Nova School, which requires a yearlong project involving something that students care deeply about and can make a difference. Claire, who hopes to become a marine biologist or oceanographer, developed a sense of history for the once-prominent Olympia oyster, as we learned from her testimony before the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.

The full testimony on SB 6145 falls between 40:00 and 51:00 in the video on this page.

“Pollution near historic beds caused many closures of the fishery and rallied the oyster farmers to fight for the earliest pollution control regulations for clean water and cleanup,” Claire told the committee.

Ostrea lurida, the scientific name for the Olympia oyster, is the only native oyster to the region. The Pacific oyster, imported from Japan in the 1920s, makes up most of the production today, but the tiny Olympia is making a comeback as a unique delicacy with natural ties to the region.

Claire talked about ocean acidification, caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and its ongoing threat to the ecological health of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and other bays and estuaries.

“Ostrea lurida,” she said, “stands as a living symbol of Washington’s history, from the earliest Native Americans through the pioneers down through statehood to the present day, deserving protection as our native oyster. Please join me in fighting to protect not only our native oyster but our waters as well.”

Claire is the daughter of Rowland Thompson, lobbyist for Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, who encouraged her to develop her project and speak before the Legislature.

Jim Jesernig of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association said he supports the bill, even though it came as a surprise to his group.

“We have been very pleased working with Claire,” Jesernig said. “It’s very interesting. From the industry, we did not see this. We were working on derelict vessels and a whole bunch of things going on. Claire has worked with folks in Willapa Harbor and the South Sound. We would like to support this in any way.”

If next approved by the house, the Olympia oyster will become the official state oyster, joining:

  • The orca, the official marine mammal;
  • The Olympic marmot, the official endemic mammal;
  • The willow goldfinch, the official bird;
  • The steelhead trout, the official fish; and
  • The common green darner dragonfly, the official insect.

By the way, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a nonprofit group, has been working for years to restore the Olympia oyster to Puget Sound. I first wrote about this issue in 1999 in a piece called “Native oyster making a comeback — with help.” A companion piece about the taste of the little oyster was titled “Olympia Oyster Gains Respect.” I also presented the tribal perspective in “Tribal Officials Welcome Oyster Restoration.”

Since then, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has helped rebuild native oyster populations in many bays, with one of the greatest successes in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo. Betsy Peabody, executive director, told me this morning that her group has great hopes for success in Dyes Inlet near Silverdale and in Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap. A new oyster hatchery in Manchester is expected to be in operation later this year.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a long-term restoration plan for the Olympia oyster with 19 areas listed for habitat restoration:

Drayton Harbor
Bellingham Bay (South) Shoreline, Portage Island, and Chuckanut Bay
Samish Bay
Padilla Bay
Fidalgo Bay
Similk Bay
Sequim Bay
Discovery Bay
Kilisut Harbor
Port Gamble Bay
Quilcene Bay
Union River/Big and Little Mission Creek(s) deltas
Liberty Bay and sub-inlets
Dyes Inlet and sub-inlets
Sinclair Inlet
Point Jefferson-Orchard Point complex of passages and inlets
Budd Inlet
Henderson Inlet
Harstine/Squaxin Islands complex of passages and inlets

Kitsap County acquires prime forest, shoreline

It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535 acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott
Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to respond, this property could return to a near-pristine condition.

This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.

The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)

The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:

“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were unable to do that.”

Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from Pope.

In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the statements made in a news release by a variety of people involved in the project:

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:

“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as part of this preservation effort.”

Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president:

“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the state of Washington.”

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:

“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of Port Gamble Bay.”

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe:

“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations. The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater runoff and other associated impacts.”

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary:

“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of dedicated efforts by the local community.”

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the acquisition:

“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill the final funding gap.”

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology:

“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of us who call Washington home.”

New video describes quest to restore Skokomish

In an impressive new video, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team tell the story of the Skokomish River, its history and its people, and the ongoing effort to restore the watershed to a more natural condition.

The video describes restoration projects — from the estuary, where tide channels were reformed, to the Olympic Mountains, where old logging roads were decommissioned to reduce sediment loading that clogs the river channel.

“I thought it was really well done,” SWAT Chairman Mike Anderson told me. “Some people have remarked about how well edited it is in terms of having different voices come together to tell the story in a single story line.”

The 14-minute video was produced with a $20,000 grant from the Laird Norton Family Foundation, which helped get the SWAT off the ground a decade ago, when a facilitator was hired to pull the group together.

The foundation’s Watershed Stewardship Program invests in community-based restoration, said Katie Briggs, the foundation’s managing director. In addition to the Hood Canal region, the foundation is supporting projects in the Upper Deschutes and Rogue rivers in Oregon.

As Katie explained in an email:

“LNFF has been interested in the collaborative work in the Skokomish for a number of years, and we have been consistently impressed with the way an admittedly strange group of bedfellows has pulled together, set priorities, and moved a restoration agenda forward in the watershed.

“We think their story is compelling, and by being able to share that story in a concise, visual way, they could not only attract more attention to the work they are doing in the Skokomish, but also potentially influence and share with other communities grappling with similar kinds of challenges.

“By helping SWAT tell their story, we’ve also gained a tool through which we are better able to share what it is we care about with the larger Laird Norton family and others interested in the foundation’s approach to watershed stewardship.”

The video project was overseen by Tiffany Royal of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a subcommittee of SWAT members. North 40 Productions was chosen to pull together the story, shoot new video and compile historical footage.

“It captures a lot of the collaboration and restoration,” Anderson said, “but it doesn’t cover everything. It leaves out most of the General Investigation and the Cushman settlement.”

The General Investigation is how the Army Corps of Engineers refers to the studies I wrote about Sunday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription) and in Water Ways. The Cushman settlement involves an environmental mitigation project on the North Fork of the Skokomish funded by the city of Tacoma and related to relicensing of the Cushman Dam power project.

Alex Gouley of the Skokomish Tribe said he hopes that the video will help tell the story of the Skokomish watershed, as with other tribal efforts such as watershed tours, educational workshops and classroom field trips.

Alex said he and other tribal members appreciate all the work done by each member of the SWAT, from Forest Service employees to the county commissioners, from Green Diamond Resource Company (formerly Simpson Timber) to small property owners in the valley.

“By coming together, everyone is able to make more informed decisions about the projects they are working on,” he said.

Corps completes draft plan for Skokomish River

UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
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Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the Skokomish River.

Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team
Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team

I was pleased to announce in today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency. Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet been announced.

I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years, actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.

As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last week:

“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning. We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan, and they did.”

Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.

But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.

Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the documents, which will include a feasibility report and an environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie Brouwer.

The plan includes these specific projects:

  • Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
  • Side channel reconnection: Restoring a parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4 miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal, could provide refuge from the raging river.
  • Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow for new pools and vegetation along the river.
  • Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about 1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in that area.
  • Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the final design.
  • Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel for better function.
  • Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter the channel to improve natural functions.
In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.
In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.
Kitsap Sun file photo

Is that a light I see shining at the end of restoration?

When it comes to ecosystem restoration, I love it when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare when we have a chance to say that restoration is nearing completion, since we know that habitat work continues on and on, seemingly without end, in many areas of Puget Sound.

Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from developments that was flowing into Steele Creek. Photo by Larry Steagall
Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from Central Kitsap developments flowing straight into Steele Creek. / Photo by Larry Steagall

So let us anticipate a celebration when Kitsap County’s regional stormwater projects are completed, when all the deadly ghost nets have been removed from the shallow waters of Puget Sound, and when there are no more creosote pilings left on state tidelands.

Of course, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a mirage, but let’s not go there quite yet.

Kitsap regional ponds

Kitsap County has been collecting a Surface and Stormwater Management Fee from residents in unincorporated areas and using some of that money to leverage state and federal stormwater grants. The fee is currently $73.50, but it will rise to $78 in 2014, $82 in 2015, $86.50 in 2016, $91 in 2017 and $96 in 2018. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 27, 2012.

The good news is that the effort to retrofit old, outmoded stormwater systems is nearing completion, with remaining projects either in design or nearing the design phase. Check out the Kitsap County Public Works Capital Facilities Program for a list of completed projects with maps as well as proposed projects with maps. As the documents show, the regional retrofits are on their way to completion.

So what are the sources of future stormwater problems? The answer is roads, and the problem is enormous. Still, the county has begun to address the issue with a pilot project that could become a model for other counties throughout Puget Sound. Please read my September story, “New strategies will address road runoff” (subscription) to see how the county intends to move forward.

Ghost nets and crab pots

Earlier this year, the Legislature provided $3.5 million to complete the removal of derelict fishing gear that keeps on killing in waters less than 105 feet deep. The work is to be done before the end of 2015.

Sites where known nets are still killing fish. Map courtesy of Northwest Straits Commission
Sites where known nets are still killing fish.
Map courtesy of Northwest Straits

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a news release.

“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict fishing gear. This is difficult work, and it requires a real commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”

The most amazing statistic I found on this topic involved the number of animals trapped by ghost nets. According to one predictive model, if all the nets had been left alone to keep fishing, they could be killing 3.2 million animals each year.

For additional information, read the story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) or check out the Northwest Straits webpage.

Creosote pilings and docks

Washington Department of Natural Resources hasn’t slowed down in its effort to remove old creosote pilings and docks. The structures can be toxic to marine life, obstruct navigation and snag fishing gear. By 2015, the total bill for removing such debris is expected to reach $13 million.

Nobody is sure how much it will cost to remove the last of the creosote materials from state lands, but DNR officials have inventoried the various sites and expect to come up with a final priority list over the next six months. Some pilings on privately owned land may be a higher priority for the ecosystem, and officials are trying to decide how to address those sites. Of course, nobody can tackle pilings on private lands without working through the property owners.

Download a spreadsheet of the work completed so far (PDF 53 kb), which involves a focus on 40 sites throughout Puget Sound. Altogether, the projects removed about 11,000 pilings plus about 250,000 square feet of “overwater structures,” such as docks.

I mentioned work underway in Jefferson County in my story last week (subscription), and reporter Tristan Baurick mentioned a specific cleanup project at Nick’s Lagoon (subscription) in Kitsap County. You may also wish to check out the DNR’s page on Creosote Removal.

Navy extends easement plans to Kitsap County

The Navy is continuing its efforts to control commercial over-water structures in Hood Canal. The idea is to buy subtidal conservation easements from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which owns these deep-water areas.

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County
Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

The first easement was proposed for the Jefferson County side of Hood Canal (map at right). The easement application is now working its way through a formal review process. The proposal received a lot of attention when it was announced in May, in part because of the potential to derail the controversial pit-to-pier project. A story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun on May 15 describes the overall goals of the Navy’s program and its potential effects.

After that initial announcement, I was surprised that the Navy and DNR seemed reluctant to talk about the next phase, which turned out to be a second easement along the Kitsap County shoreline from the Hood Canal bridge to the county line near Holly. I described that proposal in a story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun yesterday (subscription).

Both proposed easements fall under the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).

Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, said the need for the Kitsap easement, like the one in Jefferson County, relates to protections of Navy operations, including testing and training in legally defined ranges:

“The proposed restrictive easement over the bedlands would protect these ranges from incompatible development that may limit the Navy’s ability to use the approved ranges and continue operations in the future. In addition to the protection of the Navy’s military operating areas, the proposed easement will provide new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems.”

I’m not sure where the Navy will go with its next easement proposal. Work continues on upland properties in some areas. See reporter Ed Friedrich’s story about a related agreement two years ago, when the Navy began buying easements in the Dabob Bay area of Hood Canal (Kitsap Sun, Oct. 8, 2011). Officials are saying almost nothing about the next steps. But I have seen a map that purportedly shows the “area of interest” regarding the Navy’s REPI efforts. The area outlined includes all of Hood Canal and the regions around Indian Island, Keyport and Bremerton.

The Navy had an initial allocation of $3 million in 2011 for encroachment protection, and additional funds were added in 2012 and 2013, according to Liane Nakahara. Partners in the endeavor so far include DNR, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands. For background on how the partnership works, check out “Partner’s Guide to the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative” (REPI)(PDF 1.9 mb).

For the Jefferson County easement, the DNR issued a “determination of nonsignificance” during the environmental review. An appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the easement and determine what the Navy should pay the state for lost revenue.

Thorndyke Resource, which proposed the pit-to-pier project, has been pushing for increased environmental review, rather than the limited review undertaken so far by the DNR. It appears that if the proposal moves forward, the Navy and DNR are likely to face a lawsuit from the company.

Here are three recent documents related to the proposed Jefferson County easement:

Will Hood Canal experience a fish kill this year?

UPDATE, Sept. 26
The Hoodsport monitoring buoy was placed back online yesterday. The dissolved oxygen levels at the surface are much higher now than they were two weeks ago, coming up to about 9 milligrams per liter at a 10-foot depth. But oxygen levels in the middle layer remain about the same — about 2.5 milligrams per liter. And the middle layer still contains less oxygen than levels close to the bottom, which is getting an infusion of heavy seawater from the ocean.

A south wind could still bring low-oxygen waters to the surface, but I don’t believe the levels are low enough to cause a fish kill. Still, the low-oxygen water could force deep-water fish to move upward in the water column. I’m waiting to hear from divers if they are seeing anything unusual, and I’ll let you know if conditions take a turn for the worse.
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Are we about to see one of the infamous fish kills that we have observed in Southern Hood Canal in past years?

I am unable to sound any alarms at this time, but if you live in the Hoodsport-Potlatch area or are scuba diving nearby, you might want to watch for dead fish on the surface, rockfish or shrimp swimming in shallow water, or wolf eels and octopuses acting strangely.

Low 02 9-17

Usually, we can look to the monitoring buoy offshore of Hoodsport to answer questions about whether fish are starving for oxygen. The buoy tells us about dissolved oxygen levels at all depths. I watch this buoy every fall for clues about dangerous conditions, such as when the surface and middle layers of Hood Canal become depleted of oxygen.

Unfortunately, the Hoodsport ORCA buoy has been down for most of the past 10 days. University of Washington technicians are trying to get it back in operation, but it appears to be an Internet/local-network problem at the moment.

As of Sept. 10, the surface layer at 10 feet deep was down to less than 2 milligrams per liter, an alarming level, and conditions were not much better at 66 feet. (See chart.) That means there is a lot of low-oxygen water that could be brought to the surface when we get a wind blowing out of the south. Well, we’ve had some moderate south winds today, and I’m wondering what is happening out there right now.

South winds blow the surface layer away and bring low-oxygen water up from the depths. Fish may come to the surface seeking better conditions, but they may find oxygen levels even worse as they go up — and the fish have no idea that better conditions may lie below.

So far, I have not seen any concerns posted on the Facebook pages of divers who may have gone out recently. Feel free to post a comment to this blog or send me an email (cdunagan@kitsapsun.com) if you see or hear anything that can contribute to the discussion.

A statewide hotline used to report oil spills also will take your calls and alert biologists to reports of dead fish. That number is (800) OILS-911.

With some luck, the UW folks will have the Hoodsport buoy back on line in the next couple days and we’ll see if conditions have improved or gotten worse. For now, we’ll just have to wait. The chart is generated by the Data Explorer at the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS). (Click on “regions” to get to Puget Sound.)

Two events for learning about Hood Canal

Long Live the Kings is holding two events that will give people some special insight into the restoration of Hood Canal, and possibly Puget Sound as a whole.

The first, tomorrow evening, begins with a free film that will lead into a discussion about Hood Canal restoration. The second, on Saturday, is a rare open house at LLK’s salmon and steelhead hatchery on Lilliwaup Creek.

Jacque White, executive director of the group, told me that he likes to show the film “Ocean Frontiers” because it provides a hopeful view about protecting marine ecosystems. It shows how a variety of people with diverse interests can work together. I’ve embedded the trailer for the film on this page.

Jacques said people clearly want to protect the rich ecosystem of Hood Canal. The Hood Canal Coordinating Council has developed an integrated watershed plan that connects the uplands to the shoreline to the deep marine waters of the canal.

Joining him in a panel discussion after the film will be Dave Herrera of the Skokomish Tribe and Terry King of Washington Sea Grant.

The film and discussion will be tomorrow (Friday) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Alderbrook Resort and Spa in Union.

The open house on Saturday will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lilliwaup Hatchery on Lilliwaup Street, off Highway 101 north of Hoodsport. (Look for balloons along the highway near Lilliwaup.)

The hatchery is a supplementation operation designed to restore stocks of threatened Hood Canal summer chum, Puget Sound steelhead and Puget Sound chinook. The event will be an opportunity to view the hatchery and understand the supplementation program, but it is also a chance to talk to people involved in numerous Hood Canal restoration programs.

“The issues in Hood Canal are about the land-sea connection,” White said, adding that he feels hope for the canal when people are willing to learn about the ecosystem and attempt to understand different viewpoints.

Two other events planned by Long Live the Kings:

  • A presentation by Jacque White with an emphasis on early marine survival. See “Water Ways” Aug. 22, 2013. The presentation will be Sept. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Orcas Center on Orcas Island.
  • A benefit dinner for Long Live the Kings, Oct 17 at Seattle Aquarium.

Why are salmon dying when they reach saltwater?

A new research program, announced yesterday, will work to untangle the mystery of what is killing young salmon after they leave their natal streams. The program is being coordinated in both Washington state and British Columbia — by Long Live the Kings on the U.S. side and by Pacific Salmon Foundation in Canada. See today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription required).

At high tide, water now covers what had been a farmer’s field after an old farm dike was breached in two places on Monday. Two bridges allow continued access along a trail across the dike. Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt
At high tide, water now covers what had been a farmer’s field for decades on the Union River estuary near Belfair. On Monday, an old farm dike was breached in two places. Estuaries are considered important for salmon survival. / Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

I have conducted hundreds of interviews about salmon through the years. Biologists can usually explain what makes a good salmon stream: clean water, sufficient gravel, vegetation to provide food, woody debris to provide protection and so on.

What they cannot explain very well is what young salmon need to survive in saltwater. Is it clean water, as in freshwater environments? Is it a particular kind of plankton for food, or maybe natural shorelines to provide protection during migration? Is the increased marine mortality of salmon the result of disease or predators? All may be factors, but which ones really count?

When asked to explain why salmon runs are coming in larger or smaller than predicted, salmon managers typically fall back to two words: “ocean conditions.” Conditions may be good or bad in a given year, but what makes good or bad conditions cannot be answered very well.

Biologists who predict salmon runs talk about the “black box” that salmon swim into when they leave the streams and swim back out of when they return. It’s a way of saying that the computer models used to predict salmon runs have a blind spot when it comes to the deep, dark ocean — which we now believe includes the estuary at the edge of the stream, where the salmon change from being a freshwater fish to being a saltwater fish.

“What is currently recognized as a black box appears to be a black hole for salmon recovery,” Jacques White, executive director of Long Live the Kings, told me yesterday in an interview. “If we don’t know what is going on, we can’t make decisions for salmon recovery. It makes it difficult to manage the stocks coming back.”

That’s where the cross-border research program comes in, and it’s no wonder that salmon biologists are excited about the prospect of breaking into the black box. It won’t be easy to track the tiny fish after they leave the streams or to figure out where things are going wrong, but new technology will help. The project is proposed for $10 million in the U.S., with an equal amount in Canada.

Review the Long Live the Kings website for other information about the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project. To go deeper into the ideas behind the project, download the proceedings, notes and other information from November’s Salish Sea Workshop Series.

Meanwhile, efforts to improve estuarine and shoreline conditions will continue, using natural conditions as a guide. On Monday, I covered the final step in the Union River estuary restoration, which involved breaching an old farm dike in two places. I watched as the waters of Hood Canal, held back for a century, began to reclaim 32 acres of saltwater march. Check out the story and video in the Kitsap Sun (subscription required).