Category Archives: Salmon

New videos talk about protecting the ecosystem with tribal treaty rights

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest residents.

The video was released under the commission’s new communications banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone.”

The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim countries.

The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May, saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual and accustomed area. See news release.

The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring population that has declined so severely that it can no longer support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing practices.

Tribal members, including Jay Julius of the Lummi Tribal Council, are able to articulate the concerns about the proposed terminal as well as the elation experienced when the Corps announced its denial of the project.

“When we got that news, it brought tears to many … in our community, because it was like a 500-pound weight off of our chest,” Julius said. “Yes! We got protection!”

Many environmentally minded people were surprised, and pleased, at the outcome. Among them was Crina Hoyer of the Bellingham-based Resources for Sustainable Communities.

“If the Lummi Nation hadn’t taken a leadership role and put their treaty rights on the line, I believe we would still be fighting this coal terminal,” Hoyer said on the video. “And, frankly, I’m not sure that we would have won.

“The fact that they used this treaty to slay this dragon was phenomenal, this treaty that continues to protect us as a community and grants us the ability to live here,” she said.

Not mentioned in the video is a new twist to the story since former Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, one of the strongest proponents of the coal terminal, became Interior Secretary in the Trump Administration. Zinke was allied with another Indian tribe, the Crow Nation of Montana, which has a major deposit of coal on its reservation.

“When it comes to coal, here at Crow you’re not going to have controversy,” said Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Tribe, in a story in “Inside Energy” magazine. “I don’t want to be dependent on the U.S. government. We have the resources, we have the manpower, we have the capability of being self-sufficient. There’s no reason why we should be this poor.”

Old Coyote has signed a lease option on behalf of the tribe for Cloud Peak Energy to produce up to 1.4 billion tons of coal on the reservation.

Before the Army Corps of Engineers denied the Gateway Pacific Terminal application, Zinke expressed impatience when the applicant, Pacific International Terminals, voluntarily delayed review of the project.

“Thanks to political pressure and the environmental special interests, the Gateway Pacific Terminal is suffering the same bureaucratic death as the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Zinke said in a news release. “The Crow need and deserve for this project to go through; and frankly, there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been approved in a timely, transparent, and fair manner.”

As we know now, the Keystone XL Pipeline is back on track under the order of President Trump. If approved, the pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast. As quoted in the New York Times, Trump told a group of auto executives:

“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist; I believe in it. But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And, generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”

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The other video released this week by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission is a cartoon called “Salmon Problems,” a followup to last year’s “Tribal Fishing 101,” told from a tribal perspective.

More coho salmon are expected, but fishing will remain limited this year

Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.

But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho making their way back to those rivers.

In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap Sun, May 4 and May 28.

“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen yesterday in Olympia.

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Amusing Monday: Ray Troll visits Puget Sound with Ratfish Wranglers

Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers, one of the most amusing bands in the Pacific Northwest, is touring Western Washington this month, with stops in Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and Seattle.

Two years ago, when writing about how fishermen can save rockfish from barotrauma, I featured a video by Ray and the band in Water Ways (June 22, 2015). This video includes a rockfish puppet and an original rap song by Ray Troll and Russell Wodehouse telling all about the problem.

Besides music, Ray is well known for his “fin art,” which is mostly about fish of all kinds, especially salmon. Ray prides himself on the realistic images of fish, produced with scientific precision, which he combines with humor to create some edgy posters.

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Seals and sea lions may be undercutting chinook and orca populations

Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered killer whales.

A new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4 million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the Kitsap Sun.

Harbor seals rest on the breakwater at Poulsbo Marina. // Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean. Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook, called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become available for killer whales or humans.

Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers combined, according to the study.

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Stream ‘bugs’ will help guide funding for future stream restoration

One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region, as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.

Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. Photo: C. Dunagan
Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. // Photo: C. Dunagan

Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works. Here’s the basic idea:

“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species. Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the worst conditions.”

Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams — as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.

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Granny, a killer whale unlike any other, stayed graceful to the end

If we can celebrate the life of a person who has died, it seems fitting to me that we should celebrate the long, productive life of a killer whale known as Granny.

Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research
Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.
Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Granny, officially designated J-2, was the oldest orca in the three pods of Southern Residents. Possibly more than 100 years of age, her longevity is something we can only hope to see among the other orcas that frequent Puget Sound.

Granny was the longtime leader of J pod. In a matriarchal society like the orcas, offspring stay with their mothers for life. Generally, the older females lead the way, and Granny was almost always seen at the front of the pack as J pod moved through the Salish Sea.

For a long-lived intelligent orca, it is hard to imagine the amount of knowledge she must have accumulated through the years. I tend to think that Granny had a personal history with nearly every cove and inlet in the Salish Sea. I think she understood the movement of salmon and where the fish would congregate before heading up the streams. It must have been tough for her to watch the decline of the whales’ once-abundant prey.

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Death toll for 2016 includes six orcas
from the Salish Sea

UPDATE, Jan. 2
The Center for Whale Research has announced that J-2, known as “Granny,” has apparently died. The oldest orca among the three Southern Resident pods, Granny was one of the first Southern Residents identified when Ken Balcomb began his Orca Survey in 1976. At the time, she was estimated to be at least 45 years old and probably in her 70s, putting her likely age at more than 100. Ken’s tribute to Granny can be read on the Center for Whale Research website. More to come.
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When it comes to the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound, a year can make all the difference in the world. Last year at this time, we were celebrating a remarkable baby boom — eight new orca calves over the previous 12 months. See Water Ways, Dec. 16, 2015.

J-34, named DoubleStuf, with Mount Baker in the background. Photo taken last February before his death this month. Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research
J-34, named DoubleStuf, swimming last February with Mount Baker in the background. The 18-year-old male died this month.
Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Another new baby was added in January of this year, for a total of nine. But if 2015 was the boom year, then 2016 turned out to be a major bust, with six orca deaths recorded during the calendar year.

The latest death among the Southern Residents was J-34, an 18-year-old male named DoubleStuf. He was found dead floating near Sechelt, B.C., northwest of Vancouver, on Dec. 20. Check out the tribute and wonderful photos on Orca Network’s webpage.

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Congress authorizes five restoration projects throughout Puget Sound

Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed yesterday by President Obama.

It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a long list of possible projects to five. See Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.

In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson, D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The three PSNRP projects moving forward are:

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Interactive map brings together extensive salmon information

When I first started covering the environment for the Kitsap Sun in the early 1980s, I convinced a state fish biologist to make me a copy of a notebook containing information about salmon streams on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Winter steelhead streams in Puget Sound from SalmonScape. Map: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Winter steelhead streams in Puget Sound, as shown in SalmonScape, a GIS-based interactive map.
Map: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Hand-drawn maps of streams, both big and small, along with field notes about the migration of salmon, stream blockages and other information were listed in that notebook. Through the years, the information was updated, combined with other data and eventually transferred to electronic databases for wider access.

A few years ago, much of this little-known information was digitized into a map that could be accessed by anyone from a web browser. The map, using a geographic information system, is such a valuable tool that I wanted to make sure that readers of this blog are aware of it.

It was given the name SalmonScape, and the map shows salmon streams across the state (click “hydrography”); salmon migration by species (“fish distribution”); stream blockages (“fish passage”); and hatcheries, fish traps and major dams (“facilities”).

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Harper Estuary project gets started following years of discussion

Excavation started today on a $1.3-million project to reshape and restore Harper Estuary in South Kitsap.

Work began today on access roads for the Harper Estuary restoration project. Photo: Doris Small, WDFW
Heavy equipment begins work today to build access roads for the Harper Estuary restoration project.
Photo: Doris Small, WDFW

It is a project that I’ve been discussing since 2001, when former Harper resident Chuck Hower first introduced me to the idea, a concept that he had been promoting with state and federal officials. (See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2001.)

Orion Marine Contractors was the successful bidder among six companies that offered bids on the project to remove much of the fill material placed in and around the estuary. The amount of soil to be removed is estimated at more than 15,000 cubic yards, or enough to fill roughly 1,000 dump trucks.

“The work will restore (the estuary) to levels conducive to marsh establishment,” said Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The project will recover a spit, reconnect saltwater to an impounded wetland and remove a bulkhead and old “relic” road that impounds the wetland, she said.

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