A major “modernization” of the North Pacific fishing fleet has
begun, bringing new jobs to the Puget Sound region and a potential
boost of $1.3 billion in total economic activity over the next 10
years, according to a
If economic and environmental conditions allow, 37 new fishing
boats and fish-processing vessels over 58 feet long will be built,
bringing new efficiencies to fishing and increased safety to those
working in the North Pacific — an area off the Alaskan coast. Most
North Pacific vessels over 58 feet are home-ported in Puget
Ship-building companies in the Puget Sound region are expected
to be the primary beneficiaries of this modernization, as half of
all the new vessels will come out of Washington state, according to
predictions in the report. The study was conducted by the McDowell
Group, an Alaska-based consulting company hired by the Port of
Seattle and Washington Maritime Federation.
Although many factors are in play, a key impetus for this
modernization is the development of catch shares — a type of
management system that divides the allowable harvest into
individual fishing quotas, or IFCs. This management regime,
sometimes called fisheries “rationalization,” avoids the wasteful
and sometimes dangerous race once seen among fishing vessels, as
each crew tries to catch the most fish within a specified time
period or before a total quota is reached.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect
It has been hard to take the news that J-28, a 23-year-old
female killer whale named Polaris, is now missing and presumed dead
— even though I knew this news has been coming since August. It now
appears likely that her 11-month-old son J-54, named Dipper, will
not survive either.
I sadly reported on Polaris’ “super-gaunt” condition in
Water Ways (Aug. 24) after talking to Ken Balcomb of the Center
for Whale Research. Until recently, various whale-watching folks,
including CWR researchers, have reported that Polaris was still
alive. She was generally seen moving slowly and in poor shape, but
at times she seemed to have more energy, raising hopes that she
might recover. But the last sighting of Polaris was Oct. 19 in the
Strait of Juan de Fuca.
During a press conference Friday, Ken announced the death of
Polaris, as he spoke out to raise awareness about the plight of
Puget Sound orcas.
Ken said Dipper’s sister and aunt were attempting to care for
the young orphan, but no other lactating females have moved in to
provide milk, so he likely will die if he is not already dead.
Ken read a personally penned obituary for Polaris, noting
that she was popular with whale watchers, in part because she was
easily identified by a nick in her dorsal fin. She acquired the
distinctive mark when she was nine years old.
At the press conference, Ken talked about the most concerning
problem facing the orcas: a shortage of chinook salmon, their
primary prey. The food shortage is exacerbated when the whales burn
fats stored in their blubber, causing the release of toxic
chemicals from their blubber into their bloodstream. Chemicals can
affect the immune and reproductive systems, as well as other
Chum salmon are beginning to make their way into Central and
South Puget Sound, which means the orcas are likely to follow.
Given this year’s dismal reports of chinook salmon in the San
Juan Islands, we can hope that a decent number of chum traveling to
streams farther south will keep the killer whales occupied through
the fall. But anything can happen.
On Oct. 2, orcas from J and K pods — two of the three Southern
Resident pods — passed through Admiralty Inlet and proceeded to
Point No Point in North Kitsap, according to reports from Orca
Network. The whales continued south the following day and made
it all the way to Vashon Island, according to observers.
On Tuesday of this week, more reports of orcas came in from
Saratoga Passage, the waterway between Whidbey and Camano islands.
See the video by Alisa Lemire Brooks at the bottom of this page. By
yesterday, some members of J pod were reported back of the west
side of San Juan Island.
The movement of chum salmon into Central Puget Sound began in
earnest this week, as a test fishery off Kingston caught just a few
chum last week, jumping to nearly 1,000 this week. Still, the peak
of the run is a few weeks away.
An organization called Sea Shepherd Global
announced yesterday that it will take up the cause of battling
Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica later
The announcement comes just days after court approval of a legal
settlement, a deal that will forever block Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society from confronting Japanese whalers on the high
Sea Shepherd Global, based in The Netherlands, apparently is out
of reach of the U.S. courts, which sanctioned the original Sea
Shepherd group for its sometimes violent actions against the
whalers. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the U.S. group, is led
by its founder, Capt. Paul Watson, who had stepped down for a
Sea Shepherd Global has mobilized its forces for what it calls
the “11th direct-action whale defense campaign.” The group has
built a new ship it claims can keep up with and surpass the
Japanese harpoon ships. Anyone who has watched “Whales
Wars,” the reality television series, probably knows that Sea
Shepherd’s ships have suffered from a lack of speed and were often
left in wake of the whaling vessels.
Sea Shepherd, with its fierce opposition to killing marine
mammals, has always claimed to be on the right side of
international law when it comes to whaling. Now its members are
inspired by a 2014 ruling in the International Court of Justice,
which found that whaling — at least as practiced by Japanese
whalers — is not a scientific endeavor. The Japanese government has
lost its only justification for whaling until it develops new
scientific protocols acceptable to the International Whaling
Commission. Review a discussion of these issues in Water Ways,
March 31, 2014, with an update on
Dec. 14, 2015.
Sea Shepherd Global also justifies its plans with a
contempt-of-court citation filed by the Australian Federal Court
against the Japanese whalers for killing protected whales within
the Australia Whale Sanctuary. Japan, however, does not recognize
the sanctuary nor the Australian jurisdiction.
“If we cannot stop whaling in an established whale sanctuary, in
breach of both Australian Federal and international laws, then what
hope do we have for the protection of the world’s oceans?” asked
Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia in a
news release. “We must make a stand and defend whales with
everything we’ve got.”
After the International Court of Justice ruling, the Japanese
took a year off from whaling before submitting a new whaling plan,
which was questioned by a scientific committee at the International
Whaling Commission. Without waiting for approval, the whalers
returned to the Southern Ocean last December. A limited Sea
Shepherd fleet followed, but the whalers killed 333 minke whales —
a quota approved by the Japanese government but nobody else.
Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) has been
engaged in a legal battle with the Japanese-sponsored Institute of
Cetacean Research in the U.S. courts. Initially, a U.S. district
judge dismissed the Japanese claims. On appeal, however, the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals called Sea Shepherd a “pirate”
organization, ordered the group to stay away from the Japanese
ships and eventually found Sea Shepherd in contempt of court for a
peripheral involvement in the anti-whaling effort. Initial appeals
Water Ways, Feb. 26, 2013.
SSCS agreed to pay $2.55 million to settle a damage claim from
Japan in light of the contempt ruling. The group had been hoping
that Japan’s lawsuit in the U.S. courts would open the door for a
countersuit, in which the illegality of Japanese whaling would
spelled out and confirmed.
All legal claims and counterclaims were dropped in the
settlement agreement (PDF 410 kb) between SSCS and the
Institute of Cetacean Research. The agreement, approved last week
by U.S. District Judge James Robart, says SSCS cannot approach
Japanese whaling ships closer than 500 yards. SSCS cannot provide
financial support to anyone else who would approach the Japanese
ships in an aggressive way, including “any entity that is part of
the worldwide ‘Sea Shepherd’ movement and/or uses or has used some
version of the ‘Sea Shepherd’ name.”
The agreement mentions a “settlement consideration to be paid to
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,” although the amount has not
The Institute of Cetacean Research immediately issued a news release
about the settlement. Paul Watson offered a three-pronged post on
page. One part was his own message, saying Sea Shepherd would
remain opposed to whaling but would comply with the settlement
Another part was a statement from Capt. Alex Cornelissen,
director of Sea Shepherd Global:
“The ruling in the US courts affects ONLY the US entity. All the
other Sea Shepherd entities in the Global movement are not bound by
the US legal system, the mere assumption that it does clearly
demonstrates a lack of understanding of Sea Shepherd Global’s
structure. Sea Shepherd Global and all other entities around the
world, other than the USA, will continue to oppose the illegal
Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.”
“Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, told
the BBC the U.S. ruling would ‘absolutely not’ affect its own
operations. He said if the ICC (sic, ICR?) were to pursue Sea
Shepherd in Australia ‘they would be entering into a court system
they’re in contempt of, and we would welcome that.’”
statement yesterday, Sea Shepherd Global said it was
disappointed that the international community has not taken more
steps to protect whales in the Southern Ocean. Still, Sea Shepherd
Global will be there with a new fast ship, the Ocean Warrior, built
with the financial support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the
British People’s Postcode Lottery and the Svenska
“For the first time, we will have the speed to catch and outrun
the Japanese harpoon ships, knowing speed can be the deciding
factor when saving the lives of whales in the Southern Ocean,” said
The Ocean Warrior will undergo final preparations in Australia
at the end of the year, about the time that Japanese whaling ships
arrive for their anticipated harvest of marine mammals. And so the
whale wars will go on but without any involvement from Paul Watson
and his U.S. contingent.
By the way, Paul, who had been living in exile in France, has
returned to the U.S., according to a
news release from Sea Shepherd that recounts Paul’s history of
fleeing from prosecutors in Japan and Costa Rica. Paul, 65, and his
wife, Yanina Rusinovich, a Russian-born opera singer, are now
living in Woodstock, Vermont, and expecting a baby in October.
I have some bleak news to share about our Southern Resident
killer whales, which normally frequent Puget Sound at this time of
J-14, a 42-year-old female named Samish, has gone missing and is
presumed dead, while J-28, a 23-year-old orca mom named Polaris,
may be living out her final days.
“Things are shaping up to be pretty bad,” said Ken Balcomb of
the Center for Whale
Research, who keeps tabs on the orca population. “J-28 is
looking super-gaunt, and I would say she is within days of her
The saddest part of my conversation with Ken this morning was to
hear him say that Polaris’ 7-month-old calf would become an orphan
and probably will not survive without his mother. That’s the
typical outcome for an orphan of that age, Ken said, although there
is a chance that the young male will be adopted by his
The calf, J-54, is still nursing, but he is close to weaning,
Ken noted. He is the newest calf born into the three Southern
Resident pods and is part of the “baby boom” of nine orcas born
between December 2014 and December 2015. So far, only one of those
calves, J-55, has died.
After my conversation with Ken, the Center for Whale Research
posted a news release about the death of Samish. Orca observers on
the water have known that she was missing for some time now.
As of today, J pod was on its way out through the Strait of Juan
de Fuca, no doubt searching for food. The chinook salmon run has
been very low this summer.
“Historically, at this time of year, we would see nice little
bunches (of orcas) swimming back and forth in front of the house,”
said Ken, who lives on the west side of San Juan Island. But this
year, the whales have broken up into small family groups and are
traveling around in seemingly random patterns, presumably in search
of whatever salmon they can find.
“Even the fishermen aren’t getting much this year,” Ken
To gauge a killer whale’s condition, researchers consider the
overall shape of its body. Without adequate fish — primarily
chinook salmon — an orca grows thinner as the body fat declines. As
conditions grow worse, a depression develops behind the blow hole.
This sunken condition — which Polaris has developed — is called
“peanut head.” So far, none of the other animals have been observed
in such a dire condition.
I’ve often been told by medical experts that when a killer whale
loses weight it can be a sign of a major problem, such as a disease
that makes them incapable of hunting to their normal ability. But a
shortage of food can exacerbate the condition.
“We have been telling the government for years that salmon
recovery is essential for whale recovery,” Ken said.
He blames the salmon decline on longtime mismanagement of wild
salmon stocks — including damage to habitat, over-fishing and
excess hatchery stocks in both Canada and the U.S. One of the
quickest ways to increase the chinook population for these whales
is to take out the Snake River dams, he said.
Rebuilding salmon runs on the Elwha River will help, Ken said,
but the number of fish is small compared to the potential of the
Snake River, which flows into the Columbia and produces salmon that
can be caught in the ocean.
“I’m trying to get the marine mammal people to talk to the
salmon people,” Ken said. “Fish have been a political problem for a
long time, and we are not solving the salmon issue.”
Money spent on law enforcement to make sure whale watchers don’t
get too close to the orcas would be better spent on education —
specifically on educating lawmakers about the needs of salmon and
killer whales, he quipped.
As of July 1 — the date of the annual orca census — the
population of the three Southern Resident pods stood at 83. That’s
the number that will be reported to the federal government. Since
then, Samish has gone missing, so the ongoing count falls to 82,
pending the status of Polaris and her son.
Samish was considered part of the J-2 (“Granny”) family group.
Her living offspring are Hy’shqa (J-37), Suttles (J-40) and
Se-Yi’-Chn (J-45). Samish was the grandmother to Hy-Shqa’s
4-year-old son T’ilem I’nges.
Polaris is the first offspring of Princess Angeline (J-17), who
is still living. Her first offspring, a female named Star (J-46),
is now 7 years old. J-54 is her second offspring.
After 43 years and some legal prodding, the United States is
preparing to use its economic and political power to protect
whales, dolphins and other marine mammals around the world.
On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
is scheduled to
publish regulations that will set up a system to ban imports of
seafood from any country that fails to control the killing of
marine mammals in its fishing industry.
To avoid a ban, foreign controls must be as effective as
standards adopted by the United States to reduce the incidental
death and injury to marine mammals in the U.S. fishing industry.
Harvesting nations that wish to continue selling fish and fish
products to U.S. markets will have five years to implement their
marine mammal protection programs, if they have not already done
When it was first approved by Congress in 1972, the Marine
Mammal Protection Act included provisions that would ban imports of
fish caught in commercial fisheries where the “bycatch” of marine
mammals exceeded U.S. standards. But the law was largely ignored
until environmental groups filed a lawsuit against NOAA two years
ago. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with NOAA agreeing to
approve new rules by August of this year.
NOAA estimates that 650,000 marine mammals are killed each year
in fishing operations. Meanwhile, U.S. consumers obtain 94 percent
of their seafood from a growing import market valued at $33 billion
“The new regulations will force countries to meet U.S.
conservation standards if they want access to the U.S. market,
saving thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in
fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international
program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S.
government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the
United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’”
Comments were made in a
joint news release from the Center for Biological Diversity,
the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Turtle Island
Restoration Network — the three groups that brought the
The new regulatory program on imports calls on NOAA Fisheries to
issue a “comparability finding” after harvesting nations
demonstrate that they have a regulatory program that meets U.S.
standards for protecting marine mammals. Each program must prohibit
the incidental killing or serious injury to marine mammals in all
fisheries, estimate numbers of marine mammals on their fishing
grounds and find ways to reduce harm if established limits are
Over the next year, the regulations call for NOAA Fisheries to
request information on marine mammal bycatch from countries that
export to the U.S. On a list of foreign fisheries, each fishery
will be classified either as “export” or “exempt.” Exempt fisheries
are determined to have a remote chance of killing marine mammals,
so they are not required to have a regulatory protection program.
Those fisheries likely to impact marine mammals and those lacking
information about impacts are placed in the export category. All
fisheries must prohibit intentional killing of marine mammals to
At the end of the five-year period, NOAA Fisheries will publish
a list of fisheries that will not receive a comparability finding
along with a list of fish banned from import. Those countries will
receive information about why they were denied certification and
are eligible to reapply at any time. Other details are outlined in
fact sheet from NOAA Fisheries.
The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, a group appointed by the
president to advise the government on the Marine Mammal Protection
Act, welcomed the long-overdue regulations to protect marine
mammals throughout the world, but said the five-year implementation
period is too long. See
comments, Nov. 9, 2015. (PDF 1.4 mb):
“Inasmuch as this is an ongoing, long-standing statutory
requirement, the Commission does not see a legal basis for
deferring implementation. To the extent that any delay can be
countenanced, it should be kept to the absolute minimum necessary
to secure the required information from exporting countries.
“The Commission is concerned that the proposed delay would
result in at least another six years during which seafood could
continue to be imported into and sold in the United States, despite
unacceptably high levels of marine mammal bycatch, unbeknownst to
U.S. consumers, and during which U.S. fleets would face unfair
competition from foreign fleets with little or no accountability to
follow comparable marine mammal conservation measures.”
In 1988, while the U.S. was developing new fishing standards to
protect marine mammals, U.S. fishermen were required to report the
type of gear they were using and any incidental catch of marine
mammals, the Marine Mammal Commission noted. Fishermen also were
required to allow observers on their boats while the agency
developed stock assessments and new rules to protect various
species of marine mammals. Those kinds of interim measures should
be required of foreign fleets as well, the commission said.
Among its many comments when the rule was first proposed last
year, the commission criticized the plan for placing too much
burden on NOAA Fisheries to gather the information, rather than
requiring the importing countries to document their protections for
“The Commission further recommends that the final rule clearly
specify that nations be issued a CF only if they meet the U.S.
standards, rather than be issued a CF unless it is shown that they
do not meet the applicable requirements.”
As far as I can tell, the final rule failed to incorporate most
of the commission’s suggestions. Still, using the economic and
political power of the U.S. to protect marine mammals around the
world is a considerable leap.
While the new regulations are expected to level the playing
field for U.S. fishermen who must comply with marine mammal
protections, we have yet to see the full response from other
countries. At some point, a ban on U.S. imports is likely to
trigger a challenge based on existing international trade
agreements. I haven’t seen much written about the legal
implications of the new marine-mammal-protection rules, but we have
seen what can happen. Review the article by Mark J. Robertson about
“dolphin-safe” tuna rules in a report for the
International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.
The long-running controversy over Washington state’s water
quality standards for toxic chemicals is nearly over. We will soon
know just how pure the water must be to get a clean bill of
We still don’t know whether the Environmental Protection Agency
will approve the new state standards adopted this week or impose
more stringent standards that EPA developed for several key
pollutants. The EPA has already taken public comments on its
“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable,” said Maia
Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, in a
release. “It sets standards that are protective and achievable.
With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to
reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.”
For more than two years, much of the controversy focused on the
fish-consumption rate — an assumption about how much fish that
people eat. The FCR is a major factor in the equation used to set
the concentration of chemicals allowed in water before the waterway
is declared impaired. (See early discussions in
Water Ways, Nov. 11, 2010.)
Initially, after plenty of debate, the state proposed increasing
the FCR from 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day — a 27-fold
increase. The initial proposal counter-balanced the effect somewhat
by increasing the cancer-risk rate from one in a million to one in
100,000 — a 10-fold shift. Eventually, the state agreed to retain
the one-in-a-million rate.
As I described in
Water Ways last October, some key differences remain between
the state and EPA proposals. Factors used by the EPA result in more
stringent standards. The state also proposes a different approach
for PCBs, mercury and arsenic, which are not easily controlled by
regulating industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants — the
primary point sources of pollution.
PCB standards proposed by the EPA make representatives of
industry and sewage-treatment systems very nervous. Water-quality
standards are the starting points for placing legal limits on
discharges, and EPA’s standard of 7.6 picograms per liter cannot be
attained in many cases without much higher levels of treatment,
Entities in Eastern Washington are in the midst of planning
efforts to control pollution in the Spokane River, and major sewer
upgrades are under consideration, the letter says.
“If Ecology were to follow the same approach on Puget Sound that
it has on the Spokane River, this would amount to a range of
compliance costs from nearly $6 billion to over $11 billion for
just the major permits identified by EPA,” the letter continues. “A
more stringent PCB criterion is also likely to impact how
stormwater is managed, as PCB concentrations have been detected in
stormwater throughout the state.”
For pulp and paper mills using recycled paper, the primary
source of PCBs is the ink containing the toxic compounds at
EPA-allowed concentrations, the letter says. Other major sources
are neighborhoods, where PCBs are used in construction materials,
and fish hatcheries, where PCBs come from fishmeal.
The letter points out similar problems for EPA’s proposed
mercury standard, calling the level “overly conservative and
unattainable in Washington (and the rest of the United States), as
the levels of mercury in fish are consistently higher than the
When water-quality criteria cannot be attained for certain
chemicals using existing water-treatment technology, facilities may
be granted a variance or placed under a compliance schedule. Both
environmentalists and facility owners have expressed concern over
uncertainties about how the agencies might use these
Despite the uncertainties, environmentalists and Indian tribes
in Washington state generally support the more stringent standards
proposed by the EPA.
“Tribes concur that water quality discharge standards are only a
part of the toxic chemical problem in the state of Washington and
that more efforts toward source control and toxic cleanup are
needed,” writes Lorraine Loomis of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “However, the standards
are an essential anchor for determining where and how to deploy
toxic reduction efforts and monitor enforcement.”
When I said this controversy is nearly over, I was referring to
a time schedule imposed this week by U.S. District Judge Barbara
Rothstein, who ruled that the EPA missed its own deadlines for
updating water quality criteria.
Rothstein, responding to claims from five environmental groups,
imposed a new deadline based on EPA’s own suggested dates. Because
the state has finalized its rule, the EPA now has until Nov. 15 to
either approve the state’s criteria or sign a notice imposing its
own standards. Checkout the
judge’s ruling (PDF 494 kb).
The new criteria won’t have any practical effect until applied
to federal discharge permits for specific facilities or in
developing cleanup plans for specific bodies of water — although
state inspectors could use the new state criteria for enforcing
state laws if they discover illegal discharges.
We hear about the “balance of nature,” but it’s not something
that we can truly understand until the balance is thrown out of
whack by something like climate change or invasive species.
Until I began a recent reporting project for Puget
Sound Institute, I never realized that San Francisco Bay was
such a hotbed of invasive species. Beginning with the California
Gold Rush, ships began moving in and out of the bay in unbelievable
numbers, arriving from ports all around the world. Now, more than
200 non-native species are making their permanent home in the bay —
including some species that have thoroughly altered the local
So far, we have been lucky in Puget Sound. Experts say we have
about 75 firmly established non-native species, yet none of them
have created the widespread damage caused in San Francisco Bay by
European green crabs and Asian clams or in the Great Lakes by zebra
mussels. The video on this page does a good job of telling the
Great Lakes story, which has been repeated all over the world.
Once people in Washington state realized how disruptive invasive
species can be, the struggle was on to protect Puget Sound from
alien invaders — particularly those found in San Francisco Bay,
which is just a short hop away on the world scale. My series of
stories talks about concerns for Puget Sound and the efforts to
control a possible invasion.
Invasive species range in size from microscopic viruses to
four-foot-long striped bass. In California, the striped bass became
a prized sport fish after it was intentionally introduced in 1879.
But over the past decade concerns have grown for their effects on
the salmon population. The jury is still out on whether high
numbers of stripers should be sustained for anglers or the
population should be fished down rapidly to save salmon and other
species. Check out these stories:
Meanwhile, striped bass have been moving up the West Coast,
possibly because of warmer waters due to climate change. A few
years ago, a 55-pounder was caught in the Columbia River, and I’ve
heard rumors that they have been seen in the Strait of Juan de
On the small side, I report on a tiny crustacean, an invasive
copepod that has almost entirely displaced native copepods in
Samish Bay in northern Puget Sound. Copepods are important prey for
small fish, including herring, which feed the larger salmon. The
invasive copepods are smaller and more difficult for fish to see,
which could have a cascading effect on the entire food web.
A major concern for Puget Sound biologists is the European green
crab, which could move into Puget Sound from San Francisco Bay in
ballast water or with warm ocean currents during an El Niño year,
like the one just past. As I describe in the new series, a major
program involving citizen science volunteers is ongoing in a search
to find the first green crabs before they gain a foothold.
Pacific oysters, another non-native species, were intentionally
brought to the Northwest from Japan in the early 1900s to replace
the native Olympia oyster, which had been decimated by poor water
quality. Pacific oysters soon became a mainstay of the shellfish
industry in the Puget Sound region and are now growing thick in
Similar introductions of Pacific oysters occurred in California
beginning more than 100 years ago, but for some reason the oyster
populations never took hold, according to a report in the
Fish and Game (PDF 1.7 mb). Finally, in the early 2000s, the
invasion began to take off.
“It remains unclear why there should be a successful invasion
now, given the failure of previous attempts to deliberately
introduce the species both locally and throughout California…,” the
“If populations in Southern California waters do continue to
expand and grow, as they have in other areas where they have
invaded, it will undoubtedly bring changes to the way our estuarine
intertidal habitats function as well as in the way we must manage
“Because Pacific oysters rapidly reach large sizes, they could
pose problems related to fouling of maritime equipment,
infrastructure, and vessels,” the report continues. “Pacific
oysters stand out as one of the most transformative invaders of
As Washington state takes steps to keep alien species from
invading Puget Sound from California, California officials may
adopt similar measures to block invaders from coming into that
Please take a look at this package of stories I wrote for Puget
Sound Institute, with editing by Jeff Rice and design by Kris
This is a campaign slogan going out to Puget Sound crabbers. It
is a positive message, built upon the goals of:
Helping people avoid losing their crab pots,
Reducing the number of crabs that go to waste, and
Increasing the number of crabs available for harvest.
We’ve talked about the problems of lost crab pots that keep on
catching crabs on the bottom of Puget Sound. About 12,000 crab pots
are lost each year in Puget Sound, killing an estimated 178,000
legal-sized Dungeness crabs that would otherwise be served up for
dinner. In January, I described some simple alterations to crab
pots that allow crabs to escape when a pot gets lost. See
Water Ways, Jan. 28.
Even more basic, however, are proven techniques that help people
select equipment and place their crab pots so they don’t get
damaged or lost in the first place.
The Northwest Straits Initiative, authorized by Congress in
1998, has been working on the problem of derelict gear for years,
retrieval of thousands of lost nets and crab pots from Puget
Sound. When it came to enlisting the public’s help in prevention,
campaign organizers realized that everyone was on the same side,
said Jason Morgan of the nonprofit Northwest Straits
“We previously focused on the doom and gloom of it, talking
about so many crabs killed each year,” Jason told me.
Working with sociologists, campaign organizers realized that
“the better way to reach people is not to talk about dead crabs but
to say we want you to catch more crabs and keep your crab
The Northwest Straits Foundation has developed a three-year plan
of action, including education for the public; improved
communication among crabbers, vessel operators and government
officials; and recommendations for improving regulations.
The plan was put together by a working group of 35 people
involved in various aspects of crab harvesting, boat traffic and
“It was a great collaborative process,” Jason said. “There was
no butting of heads or anything like that.”
“Crab pots are lost for a variety of reasons. Causes for loss
generally fall into three categories:
Vessel interaction (both recreational and commercial
Improperly configured gear, including improperly tied knots;
Improperly placed gear.
“All these categories usually include a degree of user error,
either on the part of the crabber, or on the part of the boater or
The plan includes at least 25 strategies for reducing conflicts
between vessel traffic and crab pots, reducing tampering and
sabotage, improving crabbing equipment and pot configuration, and
removing abandoned crab pots during non-crabbing days.
One of the interesting ideas is to require online registration
for recreational crab endorsements on fishing licenses. Applicants
would take a short quiz to make sure they know the rules.
Rich Childers, shellfish manager for Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, said the various regulatory proposals in the
plan are under advisement. One idea, which has proven effective, is
to reduce the size of allowable escape cord (“rot cord”) that opens
an escape hatch for the crabs to get out. Studies have shown that
approved escape cord takes between 30 and 148 days to disintegrate,
and most people use larger cord to last longer.
The time that crabs are trapped and dying on the bottom could be
reduced if the rules were changed to require smaller cord. Any rule
changes would include a grace period, Childers said, and it would
be nice if crabbers could obtain the smaller cord for free.
With crab season underway, a series of videos on the theme
“Catch more crab!” couldn’t come at a better time: