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
May 4 and
“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.
Those interested in the creatures that inhabit our local
waterways may find themselves enthralled by two recent publications
— one describing the many species of fish found in the Salish Sea
and the other examining the lifestyles of crabs and shrimps living
along the Pacific Coast.
new fish report (PDF 9.2 mb), published by NOAA Fisheries,
documents 253 species found in the Salish Sea, including 37
additional species not listed in the previous comprehensive fish
catalog, now 35 years old.
What caught my immediate attention in the report were the
beautiful illustrations by Joe Tomelleri, who has spent the past 30
years capturing the fine features of fish from throughout the
world. Check out the ornate fins on the fourhorn poacher and the
muted colors of the spotted ratfish. I never realized that common
ratfish wwere so beautiful.
The new report offers a preview of a much-anticipated book by
Ted Pietsch, retired fish curator at the University of Washington’s
Burke Museum, and Jay Orr, a biologist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries
Science Center. The book, “Fishes of the Salish Sea,” will provide
extensive descriptions as well as illustrations of all known
species — including some early discoveries that came to light after
publication of the new NOAA report. The book could be 600 pages or
I interviewed author Ted Pietsch of Seattle and illustrator Joe
Tomelleri of Leawood, Kans., for a piece incorporated into the
The other book, “Crabs and
Shrimps of the Pacific Coast” by Greg Jensen of Bremerton,
pulls together information about 300 of these various crustaceans.
The book, which has been on my review list for more than year, has
won acclaim from experts in the field as well as casual observers
of nature. The book comes with an associated computer disc of the
book’s text, which allows one to link to other articles and
reports. One can also load much of the book onto a smart phone,
which can be taken to the shoreline and used as a field guide.
“My goal was to make a book that would appeal to someone who
just wants to learn about this stuff and would also be valuable to
someone, like myself, who is a specialist in the field,” Greg told
I enjoy Greg’s light writing style, as he tells little stories
in sidebars, shares brief biographies of key scientists and clears
up myths and confusion. One sidebar, for example, tells us that the
lines between shrimp and prawns have become blurred.
In Great Britain, he said, Crangonids, “with their stout,
somewhat flattened form, were called ‘shrimp,’ while palaemonids
were known as prawns.” In other places, prawns are considered
larger than shrimp. Sometimes prawns refer to freshwater versus
“Bottom line: There is no formal definition separating the two.
Like the Queen’s English, once they left home for America and
Australia, they became bastardized beyond recognition,” he
Greg, a scuba diver, shot about 90 percent of the pictures shown
in the 240-page book. If nothing else, he told me, the book
provided an excuse for him to dive in waters all along the
“It was like a big scavenger hunt,” he said. “You look through
the literature and you have this list (of crabs and shrimps). You
dig up anything and everything about where to find them.”
Like Ted Pietsch has done for fish, Greg has gone back to the
original references about crabs and shrimp, taking pains to correct
mistakes passed down through scientific literature. It has taken
years to track down the many references to ensure accuracy and give
credit to the right people, he said.
Greg, who grew up in Bremerton, was in grade school when a field
trip took him to Agate Passage on a low tide, where he became
intrigued by crabs. He soon started an extensive collection of
dried crab shells. Looking back, Greg credits marine biology
instructors Ted Berney at East High School and Don Seavy at Olympic
College for helping him pursue his interests, eventually launching
his career at the University of Washington.
Today, Greg still lives in Bremerton, researching, writing and
teaching at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Science.
For the past few years, I’ve been hearing that Washington’s
water-quality standards are grossly out of date, especially when it
comes to assumptions about how much fish people eat. Water-quality
standards are a set of criteria used to determine when a body of
water is “impaired” and to establish limits for discharges from
industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants.
It was hard to understand how the Department of Ecology could
assume that an average person was eating just 6.5 grams of fish a
day. That’s less than a quarter-ounce. A typical meal of fish is
commonly considered to be eight ounces (226.8 grams). So the
assumption was that people were eating one meal of fish every 35
The water quality standards come from an equation established to
ensure that if you consumed a certain amount of fish, then your
health would be protected. So it would seem logical that if you ate
more than that amount, your health might be at risk.
That’s what got me started looking into the nuances of this
discussion about water-quality standards and eating fish,
especially fish from Puget Sound. The result was a two-part series
published Sunday and Monday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription) —
Part 1 and
Part 2 — and reprinted with permission on the website of
Investigate West — Part
1 and Part
I’ll talk about my new relationship with InvestigateWest at the
bottom of this page, where I’ll also report on a new study about
the protective effects of eating fish even when mercury levels are
The first thing to understand about water-quality standards is
that the state has been relying on an equation created by the
Environmental Protection Agency. That equation resulted in water
quality standards used since 1992 across the nation and still in
some states (PDF 429 kb). The problem was that the EPA has not
updated the nationwide standards, known as the National Toxics
Rule, even while the federal agency has been pushing for states to
come up with their own standards.
Obviously, the fish consumption rate was no longer valid, if it
ever was. State and federal guidelines call for people to eat at
least two or three meals of fish each week for health reasons. It
is not uncommon for Native Americans to eat a meal of fish or more
each day. Protecting the treaty rights of tribal members, which
includes safely eating fish from their “usual and accustomed
areas,” is a responsibility of the state and federal governments,
Fish consumption is not the only issue, however. Other factors
in the equation are also out of date. The EPA has updated estimates
of toxicity for many of the 100 or so chemicals for which
water-quality standards are listed. The weight of a person’s body
in the equation also was changed.
Perhaps the most controversial change in the formula, as
proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, is to increase the cancer risk rate
for human health from 1 in a million to 1 in 100,000.
I won’t go deeper into the calculation here, since you can read
my story for more details, or look into the state’s
“Overview of key decisions in rule amendment” (PDF 6.4 mb). But
understand that all the assumptions taken together changed the
final number for each of the 96 chemicals under review for
Washington state. Also note that the vast majority of these
chemicals are not even detectible in fish down to parts per
Under Inslee’s proposal, the final number generated by the
equation would be the new water-quality standard for a chemical if
the number were lower (more protective) than the existing standard.
For chemicals in which the number was higher (less protective), the
old standard would remain.
The result was that 70 percent of the standards would become
more stringent under Inslee’s proposal and 30 percent would stay
the same, according to Ecology officials. To see the proposed
changes between the old and new standards and whether the change in
cancer risk would make a significant difference, check out “Human
Health Criteria Review Documents” (PDF 2.9 mb).
Out of the 96 chemicals on the list, two create the greatest
concerns for human health in Puget Sound waters. They are
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. For these chemicals,
Inslee’s proposal would keep the water-quality standards the same.
This is controversial, but his thinking is that these chemicals are
widespread in the environment, and reducing their concentrations in
effluent would have little effect on improving the safety of
The governor has proposed a separate planning process with
funding from the Legislature to track down and reduce the sources
of pollution that cause the greatest health concerns — including
some chemicals not on the EPA’s list.
Eating fish is especially important for pregnant mothers and
young children, as I described in the first part of the series.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish tissue are considered essential
for the proper development of the brain and neurological system,
including memory and performance, as well as other health
Health advisories tend to balance the beneficial effects of
eating fish with the risks of getting too much PCBs, mercury and
other harmful chemicals. The goal is to choose fish that are
relatively low in toxic chemicals, knowing that practically all
fish, meats and dairy products contain some contaminants.
New study on protective effects of fish
A new study in the Seychelles, an island country where people eat a
lot of fish, suggests that polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish may
provide some protection against the health risks of mercury,
including neurological problems.
The study was published in the “American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition.” The report’s co-author, Edwin van Wijngaarden,
associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Department of
Public Health Sciences, had this to say in a news
“These findings show no overall association between prenatal
exposure to mercury through fish consumption and neurodevelopmental
outcomes. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the benefits
of fish consumption may outweigh, or even mask, any potentially
adverse effects of mercury.”
Because the findings are so new, I chose to stick to the
standard health advisories in my Sunday story.
Laura Riley, medical director of labor and delivery at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said the advice to limit
fish intake may not be warranted after all. But she is not ready to
drop the cautionary approach, according to a story by Dennis
“More study needs to be done before you can convince me that the
fish is actually protective,” she said. “I want to see the
As most of you know, I have retired from the staff of the Kitsap
Sun, but I’m still writing this blog and occasional stories for the
newspaper, including the two-part series this week.
I was recently asked by InvestigateWest, a nonprofit
journalism group, to cover some environmental issues being debated
in the Washington Legislature. I started this new assignment this
week and expect to continue coverage to the end of the legislative
session. My work is being funded through a crowd-sourcing
website called Beacon. All contributions are appreciated.
Big money is beginning to come together for planning,
engineering and design of major restoration projects along the
Skokomish River. If approved by Congress, the cost of construction
could exceed $40 million — a lot of money to you and me, but maybe
not so much for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Last week, the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board approved
grants for more than 100 projects in 29 counties throughout the
state. The total, from state and federal sources, was about $18
million for this round of funding.
Mason County was one of the big winners this time, receiving
$1.25 million for seven projects, including a $360,000 contribution
to planning and engineering for transformative projects on the
Skokomish. The total cost for a “35-percent level of design” is
expected to be $2.45 million, mostly from the Corps of Engineers.
That level of design is needed to give top officials in the Corps
and members of Congress a good idea of cost before they commit to
the massive undertaking along the Skok.
I’ll address the specific Skokomish River projects, along with
new information from the Corps, in a separate blog post to come.
For now, I’d like to describe other projects approved in the latest
round of SRF Board funding.
In addition to the design work on the Skokomish, the Mason
Conservation District will move ahead with the construction of 21
man-made logjams in the Holman Flats area along the South Fork of
the Skokomish. That is an area that was logged and cleared in
preparation for a dam that was never built.
The clearing destabilized the river and degraded salmon habitat
for more than a mile downstream. The logjams will add structure to
the river and create places for fish to hide and rest, ultimately
improving the channel itself. The $362,000 from the SRF Board will
be supplemented with another $900,000 in grants.
Beards Cove, $297,000: This project, outside of
Belfair on Hood Canal, will remove fill, structures and invasive
plants and restore the grade to the way it was before development
in 1973. The project will restore about a quarter-mile of natural
shoreline and seven acres of tidal marsh. Along with a separate
seven-acre land-preservation agreement and other efforts, about 1.7
miles of Hood Canal shoreline will be preserved forever. Great
Peninsula Conservancy will use a separate $491,000 grant from the
state’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program.
Allyn Shoreline, $14,000: Mason Conservation
District will complete final designs to enhance 480 feet of
shoreline along Case Inlet in Allyn, including removal of about 120
feet of bulkhead.
Likes Creek, $85,000: South Puget Sound Salmon
Enhancement Group will remove a culvert under the Simpson railroad
that blocks salmon migration on Likes Creek, a major tributary of
Goldsborough Creek. Another grant will provide $43,000 for the
project, and Mason County will assist with removal of another
Goldsborough Creek, $111,000: Capitol Land
Trust will buy 420 acres on the North Fork of Goldsborough Creek
near Shelton. The property provides habitat for endangered salmon
and steelhead. The land trust will contribute $20,000 in donated
Oakland Bay, $24,000: Capitol Land Trust will
use the money to remove invasive and dead vegetation and maintain
12 acres of shoreline plantings on Deer, Cranberry and Malaney
creeks. About $5,000 in donations will be added.
Three projects were funded in Kitsap County:
Springbrook Creek, $62,000: Bainbridge Island
Land Trust will assess the creek’s watershed and design five
salmon-habitat projects for one of the island’s most productive
streams. The land trust will contribute $11,000 in donations of
Curley Creek, $33,000: Great Peninsula
Conservancy will assess how to protect salmon habitat in Curley
Creek in South Kitsap, one of the largest salmon and steelhead
streams in the area. The conservancy will contribute $6,000 in
donations of labor.
Steelhead assessment, $50,000: Kitsap County
will analyze existing information on steelhead habitat in the East
Kitsap region, south to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, to help with a
recovery plan for the threatened fish. The county will contribute
Other notable projects include the following in King,
Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom counties:
Mill Creek, $327,000: The city of Kent will
built a floodplain wetland off Mill Creek near the confluence with
the Green River, an important stream for chinook salmon and
steelhead as well as coho, chum and pink salmon and cutthroat
trout. The project includes the construction of 1,000 feet of new
off-channel habitat, where salmon can find refuge and food during
floods, and 43 log structures. Work also will restore seven acres
of native vegetation. A local grant will provide $1.4 million.
Stillaguamish River floodplain, $402,000: The
Stillaguamish Tribe will purchase 200 acres on the North Fork and
main stem of the river, remove invasive plants and restore about 25
acres of riverbank with native vegetation.
Black River wetland, $90,000: Capitol Land
Trust Grant will buy 54 acres to conserve a rare wetland unique to
the Black River and protect 1.3 miles of side channel. The property
is adjacent to 75 acres already protected by the land trust in the
Black River Sub-basin, one of the largest remaining wetland systems
in Western Washington.
Nooksack River logjams: The Nooksack Tribe will
receive $320,000 for logjams in the South Fork Nooksack and
$283,000 for the North Fork Nooksack. Eight logjams in each stream
will slow the river and provide resting pools for salmon. Federal
grants will add $56,000 in the South Fork and $60,000 in the North
In announcing the $18 million in salmon-restoration grants
statewide, Gov. Jay Inslee commented:
“Salmon are important to Washington because they support
thousands of jobs in Washington — fishing, seafood-processing, boat
sales and repair, tourism, and more. When we restore land and water
for salmon, we also are helping our communities. We get less
flooding, cleaner water and better beaches. We also make sure that
our grandchildren will be able to catch a fish or enjoy watching
the return of wild salmon.”
Funding for the grants comes from the sale of state bonds
approved by the Legislature along with the Pacific Coastal Salmon
Recovery Fund, approved by Congress and administered by the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
David Trout, who chairs the SRF Board, said the restoration
projects are a lifeline for salmon:
“Without these grants that fund incredible projects, we wouldn’t
have any salmon. That’s unacceptable. We’ve seen these grants make
a difference. They create jobs, support local communities and their
involvement in salmon recovery, and most importantly the projects
are helping bring back the fish.
“After more than a decade of work, we’ve seen that in many areas
of the state, salmon populations are increasing or staying the
same. At the same time, we still have some important areas where
fish populations are continuing to decline. We can’t get
discouraged and must continue working at this. It’s too important
to stop now.”
The recent rains have done the job; the streams have risen; and
chum salmon are moving swiftly into Chico Creek — and probably
other streams on the Kitsap Peninsula.
I stopped by Chico Salmon Viewing Park today and observed chum
in all portions of the stream and moving upstream at the bridge on
Chico Way. The park, where volunteers have made significant
improvements, is adjacent to Kitsap Golf and Country Club. Park
officials say it is OK to walk around the chain-link fence and
enter the park, but please stay on the trails once you are
I also noticed a large number of salmon at the mouth of Chico
Creek, milling around the culvert under Highway 3. The old culvert
on Kittyhawk Drive has been torn out, so it is no longer an
obstacle. The stream channel has been reconfigured to look and
function like a natural stream. See
Kitsap Sun, Aug. 26.
At least a dozen anglers were fishing out beyond the mouth of
the stream, where they should be. Fishers and other observers are
asked to stay on the trail, be careful not to trample recent
plantings, and stay out of the stream channel. No fishing is
allowed upstream of the high-tide mark down on the beach.
I recently wrote about how killer whales of the Salish Sea have
begun to follow the chum salmon into Central and South Puget Sound.
Chum are a primary prey species for the orcas, after chinook runs
Kitsap Sun, Oct. 20.
I have to admit that I still get excited when I see energetic
salmon finding their way upstream, swimming around rocks and logs,
rushing through shallow riffles and hanging out in deep pools. If
you visit the major salmon streams, such as Chico Creek, over the
next week or two, you’ll avoid the smell of rotting salmon that
generally comes later. As for me, I like to watch the salmon during
all portions of the run.
For a map of accessible salmon-viewing locations with videos
that describe each spot, go to Kitsap
Peninsula Salmon Watching. While there, check out the tips for
If anyone gets a decent photo of salmon in the streams, please
send it to my email
address and I’ll post it on this blog. I tried to get photos
today, but I didn’t have enough light.
If you’d like to learn about salmon from fisheries biologists,
consider attending this year’s Kitsap Salmon Tours on Saturday,
Nov. 8, at four locations:
Cowling Creek Center, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 20345 Miller Bay
Poulsbo Fish Park, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Lindvig Way in Poulsbo,
www.city of poulsbo.com/parks/parks_events.htm.
Chico Salmon Viewing Park, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., adjacent to
Kitsap Golf and Country Club, www.ext100.wsu.edu/kitsap.
Mountaineers Rhododendron Preserve, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with
walking tours at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.,
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided yesterday that it
was time to consider, within its management plans, how large-scale
fishing at certain times and places can create ripple effects in
the food web.
The council adopted a new
Fishery Ecosystem Plan to help manage West Coast fisheries,
broadening the view of how fishing can shape the entire ocean
“It’s the beginning of a paradigm shift in fisheries
management,” Paul Shively of Pew Charitable Trusts told Jeff
Barnard, environmental reporter for the
In the past, managers have tried to figure out what level of
fishing can be sustainable. Now, in theory, they will also consider
how a reduction in the numbers of certain fish can affect marine
creatures that might want to eat them or be eaten by them.
“We’ve always managed our oceans on a species-by-species level,”
Shively noted. “By developing an ecosystem plan we begin to look at
how everything is connected in the ocean.”
“We now enter into a new era of more sophisticated fishery
management. We heard strong public testimony calling for more
protection for unmanaged forage fish, and the council’s adoption of
this motion today formalizes the council taking this up this as a
fishery management action.”
Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, said the agency has been talking about
the ecosystem-based approach since the 2006 renewal of the
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
“Taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management is widely
viewed as an enlightened approach to fishery management, because it
recognizes that the target species of interest exists within a
broader ecosystem,” she said in Barnard’s piece. She is now a
visiting professor at Stanford University,
The Fishery Ecosystem Plan does not replace existing management
plans, including those for salmon, groundfish, highly migratory
species or coastal pelagic species. But it does call for the
consideration of more factors before making management decisions,
and it mandates an annual “State of the Ecosystem” report.
One initiative connected to the plan calls for the prohibition
of targeted fishing for unmanaged forage fish until the impacts are
better known. Eight other initiatives will discuss how harvest
affects stocks, bycatch, habitat, fisheries safety, fisheries jobs,
response to climate change, socioeconomics, and other factors.
“When fishing reduces the population of one species, there are
ripple effects throughout the marine food chain. For instance, if
the human species takes more krill out of the ecosystem, the
populations of other animals that prey on krill might decline.
“But it’s not just a question of how much krill we take. Where
and when we take it are also important. Penguin chicks need to find
food when they fledge at the end of their first summer. For certain
species of seals, which carry their pregnancies through winter,
wintertime forage is critical. By identifying where and when these
critical periods occur, scientists can advise fishery managers on
how best to reduce the impacts of fishing on the other species we
Parental instincts are on stark display in this video, below,
showing a pair of fish protecting their eggs against an aggressive
turtle, who no doubt wants to make a meal of their unhatched
The conflict takes place in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. At first
glance, you have to wonder how these fish, known as emperor
cichlids, could possibly hold off the larger terrapin. But they
Another kind of fish-vs-turtle contest is the classic tug-of-war
involving a worm. I found two videos in which a goldfish in an
aquarium tries to steal a worm from a turtle. In each, the fish is
at least partially successful. The longer (2.5-minute)
video on Benjenings Channel plays up the drama; the shorter
(22-second) video on Stonemanjosh
Channel gets right to the moment of truth.
But if you want to understand the more common scenario between
turtle and goldfish, just search in YouTube for
“turtle eating goldfish” and choose from the long list. You’ll
find out more about the dark side of life than you wish to
I used to include some epic battles in this “Amusing Monday”
feature. (Remember the
octopus-vs-shark video taken at the Seattle Aquarium?) But some
readers objected to violent battles ending in death, so I’ve kind
of steered away from them. But I’m still fascinated by closely
matched conflicts, such as the alligator against the python. Check
video from “Nature,” originally broadcast on PBS.
As the narrator of the alligator-python battle explains:
“Alligators were once the undisputed reptile kings of the
Everglades. But when push comes to shove, who would win in a battle
now, alligator or python? It all depends on which one is
Well, we got it done, at least for now. I’m talking about a
project that included a total of 27 new videos and an interactive
map, all to help people observe the annual migration of chum salmon
on the Kitsap Peninsula.
This project is one reason I have not written as many stories or
blog entries as I normally would have over the past few weeks.
This is the fourth remake of the salmon map, going back to the
first map published in the newspaper in 1995. This year, reporter
Amy Phan produced the videos, adding many more location shots.
We’ve also added an overview video describing the project and how
to use the map (below).
Because most of the filming was done before the rains arrived,
streamflows in the videos are lower than what you will see if you
go out now. If I had it to do again, I would have shot more video
of salmon last fall. We’ll probably substitute some new shots of
salmon in the streams.
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
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.
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.
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
With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon
fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news
“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.”