Tag Archives: coho salmon

Highway runoff can kill coho before they can spawn

Stormwater runoff from highways has been found to contain one or more toxic compounds that can bring on sudden death in coho and possibly other salmon as well.

Researchers Kate Macneale (left) and Julann Spromberg place a coho salmon into a tub of stormwater at Grover's Creek Hatchery in North Kitsap. Their studies have revealed that urban stormwater can kill coho before they are able to spawn in a stream. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Royal / Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Researchers Kate Macneale (left) and Julann Spromberg place a coho salmon into a tub of stormwater at Grover’s Creek Hatchery. Their studies have revealed that urban stormwater can kill coho before they are able to spawn.
Photo: Tiffany Royal/Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Researchers from NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center first noticed the problem in Seattle’s Longfellow Creek, which gets a high volume of stormwater when it rains. Returning adult coho were dying in the stream before they could spawn.

The problem was confirmed last fall at Grover’s Creek Hatchery in North Kitsap, where coho were placed into tanks containing highway runoff. Even after days of rain, the runoff was deadly, causing the fish to become disoriented and die within hours. This was not a disease process but a severe physiological disruption of the salmon’s metabolism.

On Monday, I reported on these dramatic new findings made by Nat Scholz and his colleagues at NOAA. Since then, the story was picked up by the Associated Press and has appeared in dozens of publications and news digests across the country.

I won’t go into detail about the study here, because most of what I know is the story. See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 21. Toward the end, I describe some actions that Kitsap County officials are taking to keep highway dirt and debris from getting into local streams, even before the deadly compounds are identified.

I’ll continue to follow this story as scientists try to narrow down the list of possible toxic compounds that are causing the problem. The next step will be to take clues from tissues removed from the dying salmon at Grover’s Creek Hatchery.

Naturally, these new findings raise many questions about how the unknown chemicals affect the fish so rapidly and where these compounds come from. Could it be from automobile tires or exhaust, or could it be something in the road material itself? Are certain chemicals acting synergistically to heighten the problem? Answering these questions could make a significant difference for urban streams and possibly for rural streams as well.

Personally, I can’t help wondering about the salmon that survive. It’s not easy to find a coho stream where highway runoff does not contribute something to the flow. If these compounds can kill a fish in concentrations found in stormwater, what are they doing to fish exposed to lower concentrations? Are the salmon that survive as successful in finding a mate and conducting their spawning rituals as salmon not exposed at all?

I’m not sure where this line of research will lead, but the early implications appear to be quite serious. On an optimistic note, if the compounds can be identified, Washington state has a reputation for reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals at the source.

Salmon harmed by copper fail to avoid predators

I guess it’s common knowledge among fish biologists that fish can smell death.

It’s a survival mechanism. When the skin of a fish is damaged, a substance is released into the water. Other fish smell the substance and instinctively take evasive action.

When juvenile coho salmon smell death, they tend to stop moving and become more wary of predators, according to a new study by Jenifer McIntyre and colleagues at the University of Washington and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But the most important finding is that the coho exposed to minute levels of copper lose their sense of smell. Their brains don’t register the smell of death, and they get eaten at a much higher rate than coho not exposed to copper. For details, check out the story published today in the Kitsap Sun.

The video shows the response of coho salmon when ground-up fish skin is released into the water. Coho not exposed to copper freeze, as you can see in the upper tank. Coho exposed to copper keep on moving, as if unaware of the danger, making them prime targets for predation.

These are interesting findings, but more research is needed to determine what levels of toxic copper may actually be found in urban streams, where copper typically comes from brake pads and pesticides, and rural streams affected by mining operations.

For further reading, check out the slideshow called “Impacts of copper on the sensory biology and behavior of salmon” (PDF 9.2 mb), which reports on findings by the research group of which McIntyre is a member

Other reports:

“An Overview of Sensory Effects on Juvenile Salmonids Exposed to Dissolved Copper: Applying a Benchmark Concentration Approach to Evaluate Sublethal Neurobehavioral Toxicity”

“Effects of Copper on Aquatic Species: A review of the literature” by Phyllis Weber Scannell.

“Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound: Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin, 2007-2011″

Some previous blog entries in “Watching Our Water Ways”:

Nov. 4, 2011: “More results, more questions found in toxic studies”

May 18, 2011: “New study refines Puget Sound pollution issues”

March 10, 2010: “Washington is first to tackle toxic copper in brakes”

June 7, 2009: “Barnacle-free hulls would be a dream come true”

Salmon managers will try to eke out fishing options

Forecasts for Puget Sound salmon runs call for lower returns this year compared to last year, but officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are emphasizing “promising” chinook fishing off Washington’s coast and Columbia River.

Each year, sport fishers line the banks of the Skokomish River as they try to catch the prized chinook salmon. / Kitsap Sun file photo

Preseason forecasts were released yesterday, launching the North of Falcon Process, which involves state and tribal salmon managers working together to set sport, commercial and tribal fisheries. Federal biologists and regulators keep watch over the negotiations to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

For a complete schedule of meetings leading up to final decisions the first week of April, go to the WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news release:

“It’s still early in the process, but we will likely have an ocean salmon fishery similar to what we have seen the last two years, when we had an abundance of chinook in the ocean but low numbers of hatchery coho.”

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Studies look at effects of stormwater on salmon

It’s the water, or maybe it’s just the nasty stuff that’s in the water.

A new series of studies by federal researchers is delving into the question of which pollutants in urban streams are killing coho salmon.

David Baldwin of Northwest Fisheries Science Center mixes a chemical soup of pollutants found in urban stormwater. Coho salmon will be kept in the brown bath for 24 hours to measure the effects.
Photo by Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, the new studies involve coho returning to the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery in North Kitsap.

Of course, pollutants in streams are just one factor affecting salmon in the Puget Sound region, where development continues to alter streamflows and reduce vegetation, despite efforts to protect and restore habitat. But pollution may play a role that has gone largely unnoticed in some streams.

The new studies continue an investigation that began more than a decade ago with the involvement of numerous agencies. By now, most of us have heard about the effects of copper on salmon, but the latest round of studies will look at the collection of pollutants found in stormwater to see how they work together. It may be possible to pinpoint the chemical concentrations that result in critical physiological changes in salmon.

The latest work involves a team led by David Baldwin of NOAA Fisheries and Steve Damm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Suquamish Tribe is providing the fish, along with facilities and support.

For information on the ongoing effort to understand how toxic chemicals affect salmon, review these pages on the website of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center:

Acute die-offs of adult coho salmon 
returning to spawn in restored urban streams

The impacts of dissolved copper on olfactory 
function in juvenile coho salmon

Mechanosensory impacts of non-point source pollutants in fish

Cardiovascular defects in fish embryos exposed 
to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

A page called “Coho Pre-spawn Mortality in Urban Streams” presents a series of videos that show the advance of an apparent neurological disease that first causes disorientation in coho salmon and then death. The video is taken in Seattle’s Longfellow Creek, an urban stream.

Coho, chum salmon running with high water

Salmon-watching season may be somewhat shortened this year, but recent rains have encouraged large numbers of fish to swim into streams on the Kitsap Peninsula and probably elsewhere in Puget Sound.

A coho salmon tries to leap into an outlet from the salmon-rearing ponds at Otto Jarstad Park in Gorst last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

It appears that coho and chum salmon were hanging out in saltwater waiting for adequate rains, which arrived last week. I covered the issue fairly extensively in a story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun.

Normally, the peak of the chum salmon run occurs around Thanksgiving on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula. Jon Oleyar, a biologist with the Suquamish Tribe, tells me that the salmon run is probably now on the decline, with dead and dying fish beginning to be seen today in larger numbers.

For most of this week (at least after tomorrow night), the rains will probably hold off for awhile. Check out the forecast from the National Weather Service. Drier weather could help the streams run clearer.

Salmon-watchers on the Kitsap Peninsula have seen a decline in coho in recent years, and biologists say it is probably because streamflows have become more “flashy.” More roads and other impervious surfaces carry water to the streams faster and allow for less infiltration. Losing infiltration means lower summer flows, which are important for coho, because coho remain in freshwater the first summer of their lives.

Anyway, this year we’re seeing more coho in the local streams. Jon tells me they are mainly hatchery fish, probably strays from the Suquamish Tribe’s net pens in Agate Passage. Those fish were meant to improve fishing for both tribal and sport fishers, but some got away. Whether the coho hatchery strays are beneficial or harmful to the wild runs remains a subject of debate.

Some of the best salmon-viewing spots are shown on an interactive map that Angela Hiatt and I made four years ago. See Kitsap Salmon runs. If anyone knows of other good spots with public access, please share them in the comments section.

Predicting salmon runs — and reporting the issues

Before salmon managers begin to focus on harvest quotas and seasons for salmon fishing, they must work out predictions about the number of salmon coming back to each management area throughout the Northwest.

Those are the numbers released this week during the annual kickoff meeting for the North of Falcon process held in Olympia. Check out my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

So how do the managers go about predicting this year’s salmon runs? It gets pretty technical, but it is basically a combination of counting the number of salmon smolts that leave selected streams and then calculating a rate of survival to determine the number of adults that will come back.

Mara Zimmerman
WDFW photo

Numerous conditions affect whether eggs and fry will survive to smolt stage and make it out of a stream, just as many factors can cause the death of the young fish after they leave freshwater. I’m tempted to describe these factors here, but instead will defer to Mara Zimmerman, who heads the Wild Salmonid Production Evaluation Unit. Her well-written report on the “2011 Wild Coho Forecasts…” (PDF 376 kb) provides an excellent education into how coho are estimated. Check it out.

I was one of three newspaper reporters who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Olympia. It was easy to tell the difference between my handling of this story and the approaches by Jeffrey P. Mayor, who writes for the Olympian and the News Tribune in South Puget Sound, and Allen Thomas, who writes for the Columbian in Vancouver (Clark County).

The biggest difference is that those guys are sports or outdoor reporters, mainly interesting in telling their readers what fishing will be like this year. As an environmental reporter, my primary focus is to describe how the salmon are doing ecologically — although I do recognize that many readers of my stories are anglers who also want to know about fishing.

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Streamflows are creating good conditions for salmon

It appears that our summer and fall weather around Puget Sound has been very good for chum salmon.

A chum salmon navigates its way upstream in Chico Creek past new weirs installed at Kitsap Golf and Country Club.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

I’m getting reports that good numbers of chum are swimming up into sections of streams where they have not been seen for years. This means that conditions are ripe for watching salmon. Check out our salmon-watching map of the Kitsap Peninsula, and read my latest reports in the Kitsap Sun and Watching Our Water Ways. Also, Kitsap Visitor and Convention Bureau has created a special website for visitors who want to see salmon.

Jon Oleyar, who counts salmon in the East Kitsap streams for the Suquamish Tribe, offered the example of Johnson Creek, which flows into Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay.

“These chum were thick from the mouth all the way up,” Jon told me after checking out the stream this week. “There was decent flow, and I was amazed to see them all the way up.”

Reports of unusual numbers of salmon have been coming in from other streams as well, including Strawberry Creek, a small, heavily impacted stream that flows through Silverdale.

Most of these salmon appear to be coming in much earlier than normal, Oleyar said.
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Industry dollars will operate McKernan Hatchery

Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.

The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their regular jobs. See my story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.

Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story: Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on wild salmon?
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Some leftovers from Tuesday’s salmon session

Washington state’s salmon managers provided so much interesting information on Tuesday that I could not fit it all into my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, deserves recognition for his patience with me and the numerous sport and commercial fishers who ask him questions. He and WDFW Director Phil Anderson are two of the most mild-mannered guys you will ever know, and yet they manage to work through tough salmon negotiations year after year.

Let me recount some of the issues expected to come up over the next few weeks, with a focus on things not covered in my story.
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Watching streams to see how salmon respond

I often play a guessing game that involves rainfall and streamflows: Are we getting the right amount of rain to help our salmon, or are the rains causing streamflows to be too high or too low?

<em A coho salmon tries to leap into a culvert against the rushing water in a stream above Wildcat Lake</em<br><small Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid</small
A coho salmon tries to leap into a culvert against the rushing water in a stream above Wildcat Lake Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

It is easy to come up with an answer when we’ve had hardly any rain. The streams are running low; salmon are ready to swim upstream; and fish in the stream are obviously struggling through shallow water. We’ve seen this kind of condition in early fall during many recent years.

When can we say we’ve had enough rain? Well, certainly when a wide variety of streams and rivers are flooding over their banks. But because of the complexity of natural systems, there may never be a “just right” level for salmon.

I was up above Wildcat Lake in Central Kitsap yesterday, discussing the conditions with Jon Oleyar, a biologist for the Suquamish Tribe. Thanks to recent rains, coho salmon are well distributed throughout the Chico Creek watershed, which includes Wildcat Lake.
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