Tag Archives: coho salmon

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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