Tag Archives: Fish

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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The PSP Interviews: Dave Herrera

When I wrote my recent progress report on the Puget Sound Partnership, my story included little more than brief quotes and snippits of information from a variety of informed people. It is somewhat rewarding to have a blog where I can bring you more complete impressions of the people I interviewed. Here is the second in a series of expanded reports from those interviews.

Dave Herrera, one of two vice chairmen of the Ecosystem Coordination Board, is one of three tribal representatives on the 27-member board. The other tribal reps are David Trout of the Nisqually Tribe and Randy Kinley of the Lummi Nation.

Herrera currently serves as “fisheries policy representative” for the Skokomish Tribe. His career started with the tribe as a hatcheries technician in 1975 following the landmark Boldt Decision. He was 18. He worked as fisheries manager from 1979 to 1982 before leaving tribal employment. Dave later worked for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Point No Point Treaty Council before returning to the tribe in 1996, where he has remained one of the tribe’s top fisheries managers.

Dave is a member of the Skokomish Tribe. His mother grew up on the Skokomish Reservation. His father was in the military, so Dave moved around with his family at a young age. He spent many of his early years in Tacoma.

Herrera has been an excellent spokesman for the Skokomish Tribe and tribes in general. For the Puget Sound Partnership story, I interviewed him by phone while he was in Washington, D.C., working to advance salmon restoration. Unfortunately, I could not fit his comments into my final story, but I’m now pleased to report his views on the partnership.

“It is fair to say,” Dave told me, “that the tribal representatives would like to see things moving faster than they are.”
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Salmon-watching should be our Northwest sport

Take me out to the salmon stream,
Take me away from the crowd.
Buy me nothing, not even a snack;
I don’t care if I never get back.


Forgive me for twisting around baseball’s sacred song, but it just popped into my head as I prepared to write about salmon. Specifically, I was thinking about how much I enjoy taking my kids — and now my grandkids — out to watch salmon spawning in our local streams.

Of course, fishing with a fly or even bait brings a different level of excitement. But there’s something special about standing quietly at the edge of a stream to avoid spooking the migrating salmon. If you are able to get the kids to calm down, you might even see a female chum salmon scooping out a depression in the gravel while one or more males circle around and try to get close.

Year after year, I write a story about the annual chum migration, encouraging people to go out to their local streams to watch the magnificent fish unique to our part of the world. This year’s story was published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

In Kitsap County, Chico Creek is always a pretty good bet to see fish. This year, Kitsap County officials opened access to a new fish-viewing park just south of Golf Club Road. A couple of new trails provide both a high- and low-viewpoint to the creek.

If you wait until late in the year, you may still see chum salmon in Gorst Creek at Otto Jarstad Park just outside of Belfair. I like to remind people that if visitors come into town at Christmas, it’s a good time to expose them to the wild side of Washington state.

The interactive salmon map on the Kitsap Sun’s website also includes a few streams in Mason County, but I’d like to compile a list of good salmon-viewing streams throughout Puget Sound.

For one, there’s Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail south of Shelton, which will open to the public on Saturday, Nov. 6. The trail will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends in November, as well as Veterans Day and the day after Thanksgiving. Trained docents will be on hand to answer questions. Check out the website by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.

In Thurston County, there’s McLane Creek Nature Trail.

For King County streams, check out locations listed on the county’s Spawning Salmon Viewing website.

Likewise for Pierce County salmon viewing (PDF 1.0 mb).

If you know of other good salmon-viewing streams in the region or would like to talk about your favorite spot, feel free to add comments in the section below.

Fraser sockeye coming home like gangbusters

UPDATE; Tuesday, Sept. 14

This will be my last update on this year’s Fraser River sockeye run, as the run has begun to tail off and increases in the estimates have been slight the past two weeks.

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 28 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.8 million; summer-run, 5.2 million; and late-run 25.4 million. The late-run is now more than three times higher than the preseason prediction, and the total runsize estimate now stands at 34.5 million.

Please read the rest of this blog entry for how this situation developed.
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UPDATE; Wednesday, Sept. 1

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 37 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, unchanged at 3.7 million; summer-run, unchanged at 4.8 million; and late-run Shuswap/Weaver, 24 million, up from 20 million.

The entire Fraser River run is now estimated at 34 million, the highest run size since 1913, when experts estimated the run to total about 39 million. The late-run Shuswap/Weaver sockeye, which are in their dominant year, are now three times the preseason estimate.
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UPDATE; Friday, Aug. 27

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 198 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.7 million, up from 3.2 million; summer-run, 4.8 million, up from 4.5 million; and late-run, 21.4 million, up from 17.2 million.

The entire Fraser River run is now estimated at 30 million, the highest run size since 1913, when experts estimated the run to total about 39 million.
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UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 26

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 198 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.2 million, up from 2.9 million; summer-run, 4.5 million, up from 4.0 million; and late-run, 17.2 million, up from 12.1 million.

The total run of Fraser River sockeye is now predicted to be 25 million fish, which compares to 1.9 million total for last year. This year’s run is the largest since 1913, according to the news release.

By the way, Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton does a nice job reporting on the personal and economic effects of the big sockeye run.
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UPDATE: Friday, Aug. 20

The Fraser River Panel today released new runsize estimates for sockeye. See news release (PDF 198 kb). The latest numbers have increased from 2.6 million to 2.9 million for early-summer-run sockeye; from 3.3 million to 4.0 million for summer-run; and from 8 million to 12.1 million for late-run. We are now seeing predictions that far exceed preseason estimates.
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When it comes to Fraser River sockeye, a single year can make all the difference in the world.

Lummi tribal fishermen use a purse seine to catch Fraser River sockeye salmon in the San Juan Islands.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Last year at this time, I commented in Water Ways about the mystery of the missing Fraser River sockeye and the economic disaster wrought by the abysmally poor runs. Preseason forecasts of 10 million sockeye washed out with a return around 1.9 million.

This year, all kinds of fishermen seem overwhelmed with excitement as large sockeye runs return to the Fraser, the longest river in British Columbia.

Kelly Sinoski, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun, described how fishermen were laughing with joy. She quoted Julius Boudreau, a commercial fisherman in Port McNeill:

“It’s out of the ordinary. The catches have been way more than the quota. It’s crazy. We’re seeing thousands and thousands of fish.”

I placed a call to Tim Tynan of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who works with the Pacific Salmon Commission as the U.S. representative on the Fraser Panel. He reminded me that we are seeing the Adams-dominant cycle this year, a typically strong return that comes around every four years and is associated with Adams River and Lake Shuswap, which is located in the middle of the Fraser River watershed near Kamloops.
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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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Amusing Monday: Time-warp view of ‘Fish from Hell’

If this week’s film “Fish from Hell” is any indication, Americans’ view of life in the ocean has changed considerably since 1945. (Scroll down for video player.)

I found this film in the Prelinger Archives, a large collection of old films and television commercials started in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City.

It’s a longer video than I usually offer for Amusing Monday. But if you pick any point on either of the two video segments you will find something interesting, if not shocking. If you are limited on time, check out Part 2 at 2 minutes, 50 seconds, where the fear of a large octopus is truly amusing, knowing what we know about these creatures in Puget Sound. The storyline of “man against nature” seems quaint from a modern scientific perspective, but I wonder how many people still hold this world view.
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A sense of dread looms over Gulf tonight

I’ve been in a mild state of shock since I first heard about the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t begin to imagine the devastation that will take place once this oil starts washing ashore tonight in the fragile salt marshes along the Louisiana Coast.

When I think about the prospect of a ship or oil tanker crashing in Puget Sound, I consider the oiled birds that die, along with affected seals and potentially killer whales. I think of the food web being poisoned. As horrible as that would be, we are talking about a finite amount of oil — because a ship or tanker can hold only so much.

On the other hand, the best experts working in the Gulf of Mexico can’t seem to stop the oil coming out of the seabed, 5,000 feet down. Now officials are saying the spill could be 200,000 gallons a day or more.

How long will the spill continue? That depends on the success of several options for shut-off, from valves that aren’t working right now to a domelike device to trap the oil, to a new shaft drilled down to intercept the old one. It could take months to shut off the oil.

Yesterday, Times-Picayune reporter Bob Marshall wrote of the more than 400 species of animals — including dozens of threatened and endangered species — that could be injured or killed by oil before this event is over.

The area under threat produces the largest total seafood landings in the lower 48 states, including 50 percent of the nation’s wild shrimp crop, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of its oysters.

Oil Spill Video: Reporters explain status

Marshall quoted Melanie Driscoll of Audubon, bird conservation director for the Louisiana Coastal Initiative, who was clearly worried: “This is a really important time for so many species in this ecosystem, because they’ve just begun spawning and nesting.”

Marshall along with reporter Chris Kirkham of the New Orleans newspaper did a great job explaining the latest information on video. Check out the video player, above right, in which they interview each other.

As the spill continues and oil gets closer and closer to shore, a sense of dread is coming over everyone who understands what oil can do to birds and wildlife. This disaster could eclipse the devastation of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

Maybe it’s too soon to talk about politics, what with 11 people dead and an environmental disaster looming, but I can’t escape the fact that a month ago President Obama called for a renewal of offshore oil drilling.

Here’s what Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said on March 31:

“By responsibly expanding conventional energy development and exploration here at home we can strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and help rebuild our economy. Our strategy calls for developing new areas offshore, exploring frontier areas, and protecting places that are too special to drill. By providing order and certainty to offshore exploration and development and ensuring we are drilling in the right ways and the right places, we are opening a new chapter for balanced and responsible oil and gas development here at home.”

Today, White House officials are saying the oil spill in the Gulf could change their energy policy. According to a report from Patricia Zengerle of Reuters, this is what spokesman Robert Gibbs said about Obama’s views given the Gulf disaster.

“Could that possibly change his viewpoint? Well, of course. I think our focus right now is: one, the area, the spill; and two, also to ultimately determine the cause of it and see the impact that that ultimately may or may not have.”

And from Carol Browner, Obama’s policy adviser for energy and climate:

“Obviously this will become, I think, part of the debate; that goes without saying. But I don’t think it means that we can’t get the kind of important energy legislation that we need.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), urged people to keep the spill in perspective, according to a story by Greenwire reporter Mike Soragham in the New York Times:

“I hope it (the crisis) will not be used inappropriately. We cannot stop energy production in this country because of this incident. If we push exploration off our shores … but force other people to produce it, they will be in regimes and places where there aren’t these kinds of equipment, technology, laws and rules.”

Let’s clear up some confusion about the smelt listing

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its listing of Pacific smelt as “threatened” yesterday, I posted a link to the press release under “Water, Water Everywhere: Government Actions” at the top of this page. That’s also where I posted a rapid response from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Since we don’t really have Pacific smelt on the Kitsap Peninsula, where I do my local reporting, I decided against writing any more about it.

But today I’m getting the feeling that more than a few people in the Puget Sound region are confused about the potential impacts of this listing. They want to know whether they can still catch some smelt in Hood Canal, along Port Orchard’s Ross Point and in other favorite spawning areas for our local surf smelt — not the listed Pacific smelt.

Let me direct you back to a Water Ways entry I posted one year ago today, after NOAA proposed the listing. In that blog entry, I admitted my own initial confusion between the two kinds of “smelt.”

If you would like a little more information about yesterday’s announcement, I direct you to Associated Press reporter Jeff Barnard’s story.

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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