Tag Archives: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group

Hospitality for salmon coming with restoration of Big Beef Creek

Big Beef Creek, which flows into Hood Canal near Seabeck, will soon undergo a major wetland renovation that should improve the survival of coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Other work, which started last year, involves placing large woody debris in the stream to create deep pools for salmon to cool off and rest before continuing their migration. The wood also will help to form new spawning areas for coho, fall chum and the threatened summer chum of Hood Canal.

Large woody debris placed in Big Beef Creek last summer has begun to form pools where salmon can escape the strong current. Photo: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group
Large woody debris placed in Big Beef Creek last summer has begun to form pools where salmon can escape the strong current.
Photo: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group

Big Beef Creek is an unusual stream, one with a personal connection for me. In the late 1970s, I lived at Lake Symington, a man-made lake built years before by impounding Big Beef Creek. A few years ago, my wife and I bought a home with a tiny tributary of Big Beef Creek running through the property.

To get a lay of the land, I ventured along the stream and through the watershed in 1999, meeting many people along the way and gaining a new respect for Big Beef Creek — known as the longest stream contained entirely within Kitsap County. Check out my story for the Kitsap Sun called “The Watershed.” Much later, I wrote a Water Ways blog post about the creek beginning with, “It is the best of streams; it is the worst of streams,” with apologies to Charles Dickens.

Today, the $1.2 million habitat transformation is taking place in the lower portion of the stream, just upstream from the estuary where people go to watch bald eagles soar. (Check out this week’s “Amusing Monday.”) The project is on property owned by the University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. Work is under the direction of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, a division of Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.

Site work will expand an 11-acre wetlands by five acres and reconnect the wetland complex to the stream channel. Coho, which remain in freshwater for the first year of life, will find a safe place to stay during the low flows of summer and the fierce floods of winter.

Officials agreed to close the well, so a relocated road will not be needed. Note the off-stream channels and the ability for the stream to change course. Map: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group
Officials have agreed to close the well, so a relocated road will not be needed. Note the off-stream channels and ability of the stream to change course within the floodplain.
Map: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group

“Coho rely on streams with complex habitat, including pools and shade with good water quality,” said Mendy Harlow, executive director of the salmon center. “In this project, we are focusing on the lower one mile of stream.”

Removing an access road along with 1,600 cubic yards of fill will restore two of the five acres of wetlands and open up the floodplain. The other two acres come from excavating some 4,500 cubic yards of fill from an elevated area where old storage buildings were removed last year.

In last year’s work, 10 man-made logjams were created where excavators could reach the creek. At the end of this month, helicopters will be used to place another 13 logjams in sections of the stream that could not be reached by land.

In a coordinated fashion, the helicopters also will be used to place logjams in Little Anderson Creek, which drains into Hood Canal just north of Big Beef. Little Anderson Creek, which originates near Newberry Hill Heritage Park, previously received several loads of wood in 2006 and again in 2009.

Both Big Beef and Little Anderson are part of an “intensively monitored watershed” program, in which experts are attempting to measure the extent to which habitat improvements increase salmon populations. It is not an easy thing to figure out, since salmon runs vary naturally from year to year. Still, over time, the improved spawning and rearing conditions should be measurable.

Other restoration work is planned on Seabeck Creek, while Stavis Creek will remain unchanged as the “control stream” for the Hood Canal complex of intensively monitored streams.

Fish traps placed in the streams monitor the out-migration of young salmon smolts, while a permanent fish trap at Big Beef Creek is used to count both smolts and returning adults. For each stream, biologists also count the number of redds — mounds of gravel where salmon have laid their eggs — to determine if conditions are improving.

Big Beef Creek logjams
Adding wood to Big Beef Creek results in greater stream complexity, offering salmon options for food, spawning and other needs.
Photo: Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group

The improved wetlands and floodplain on Big Beef Creek will allow the stream to move among several historical stream channels as sediment loads build and decline over time. Strategically placed wood will provide complexity wherever the stream chooses to go, according to Mendy, who has been working toward this project since 2007.

“I’m really excited about it and look forward to the changes,” she said. “The phase of work going forward this summer is the important phase.”

Sarah Heerhartz, habitat program manager for Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, said improving the wetlands will not only help fish but also birds that favor wetlands. The stream will have room to move and spread out, she said, and some of the sediment from upstream sources will drop out before reaching the estuary.

“The floodplain is going to be a big boost for coho fry to smolt survival, because that will open up a lot of rearing habitat for juvenile coho,” Sarah told reporter Ed Friedrich in a story written for the Kitsap Sun.

The stream restoration is not expected to affect work at the UW research station, which continues to play a role in salmon studies, including efforts to improve hatchery conditions. In 1999, I wrote about the efforts to restore a run of summer chum on Big Beef Creek. Take a look at “Reviving a salmon run.” Unfortunately, the resuscitation effort has not been entirely successful, but there are new hopes that this summer’s stream repairs will give a boost to the summer chum as well as the coho.

Norm Dicks inducted into Wild Salmon Hall of Fame

From childhood, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks was destined to become an advocate for salmon and ultimately a champion for the entire Puget Sound ecosystem, according to recent comments from his family and friends.

Norm Dicks on a fishing trip in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest Salmon Center

Most people know that Norm — whose home lies in southern Hood Canal — will leave office at the end of this year. Recognizing his efforts on behalf of salmon, the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center recently named him to its “Wild Salmon Hall of Fame.”

Neil Werner, executive director of the salmon center, said Norm embodies all the criteria for hall of fame inductees, such as a passion to restore wild salmon, a willingness to share knowledge and much success in making things happen. Listing the criteria, he said, is like describing Norm Dicks himself.

I won’t list all the accomplishments that Neil cited during an induction ceremony two weeks ago, but they included Norm’s leadership in obtaining congressional funding for a variety of programs to restore salmon in Puget Sound, to heal the Puget Sound watershed (including federal lands) and to increase our understanding of how the ecosystem works.

As a result, salmon have regained access to 900 miles of stream habitat, including the nearly pristine watershed above two dams on the Elwha River.

“We will see the benefits of what he has done for an awfully long time, if not in perpetuity,” Neil said.
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You, too, can observe oxygen changes in Hood Canal

I’m becoming something of a nerd when it comes to oxygen levels in southern Hood Canal. I’m sure it stems from the realization that we now have the technology to predict when fish will react to low-oxygen conditions by swimming to the surface, acting sluggish and sometimes dying.

Wolf eels at Sund Rocks in Hood Canal are disturbed by low-oxygen conditions.
Photo courtesy of Pat Lynch

In a story published in Monday’s Kitsap Sun, I took a step back from the immediate low-oxygen conditions and discussed our knowledge of Hood Canal, along with plans being formulated to address the low-oxygen problem.

Low-oxygen conditions reared their ugly head during the last week in September (Water Ways, Sept. 27). No major fish kills were reported before things began to improve somewhat by Friday (Water Ways, Sept. 30).

I’m keeping my eye on the charts and graphs and noticed a couple things that we can talk about. Compare the two oxygen profiles below with an eye to the surface conditions at Hoodsport (blue line) and deeper waters there below 40 meters.

Oxygen profile from Sept. 30
Oxygen profile today (Oct. 5)

The first thing I noticed was that the top of the hypoxic layer moved up from about 17 to 10 meters. That means if fish are avoiding that low-oxygen water, they will also move up. As far as I know, divers have not reported any observations to confirm or deny that change. One explanation is that the heavy ocean layer at the bottom is pushing up the entire water column. It also could mean that the surface layer has grown thinner, such as when south winds blow or north winds stop.

Meanwhile, the bottom of that middle hypoxic layer has moved up from about 70 to 50 meters and the edge has smoothed. That is an indication that the heavy ocean water, which contains more oxygen, is mixing with the bottom of the hypoxic layer.

One may also notice that the deep water at Twanoh (turquoise line) has become more oxygenated all the way through and is sharply higher in oxygen at the bottom. Perhaps this is an indication that the heavy ocean water has reached Twanoh and is mixing at the bottom, while winds and tides mix the water at the top.

University of Washington oceanographer Jan Newton has noticed a decline in the oxygen concentration in the middle layer at Hoodsport. She raises the prospect that this could result, in part, from low-oxygen water being pushed back from Lower Hood Canal by the annual intrusion of heavy ocean water. It needs to be checked further, she said.

I hope we get some diver observations this weekend or sooner. In discussing the current conditions with Dan Hannifious of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, we both wondered when deep-water fish will move back to their normal depth. What would it take for them to break through the middle low-oxygen layer to reach deeper water that is higher in oxygen.

If you would like to become an armchair observer of these conditions in Hood Canal, check out the graphs on the website of the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program. You’ll have to save old graphs to compare them closely, although another graph on the Nanoos website shows you changes in oxygen levels and other parameters over time for selected depths. (Click on “Regions” then “Puget Sound” and locate the Hoodsport buoy to find the graphs.)

Will the conditions in Hood Canal get better or worse this year? I’ll let you know, but if you see something unusual, feel free to post a comment here.

Oxygen levels improve in Hood Canal past few days

Fish and other sea creatures are finding some room to breathe in southern Hood Canal as higher oxygen levels have returned to the upper portion of the waterway after things looked pretty bleak on Monday. See Water Ways post.

I reported yesterday that fish could safely go down to 60 feet in a story posted on the Kitsap Sun website, but conditions are changing all the time. Now it looks like the cutoff depth is closer to 50 feet, while waters closer to the surface appear to be more oxygenated than yesterday.

I discussed the situation with Dan Hannifious of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and included some of Dan’s comments in the story. Rather than repeat those comments here, I’ll let you click on the story.

What I did want to share are a couple graphs that show current conditions as of 9:30 this morning. Most of the real-time analysis comes from monitoring buoys in Hood Canal.

This is a profile of the oxygen levels from the surface down to the bottom of Hood Canal, or close to it. The blue line is for the Hoodsport buoy, turquoise for Twanoh and green for Dabob Bay. The black line is for Carr Inlet in South Puget Sound and purple is Point Wells near Edmonds. Biological "stress" occurs at less than 5 milligrams per liter, while "hypoxia" is shown at 2 mg/l. At Hoodsport, if fish go below about 18 meters, they will be in hypoxic conditions. Earlier this week, these condition were seen at the surface.
Data from the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program.
This graph shows changes over time. While conditions have gotten better near the surface (blue line), it doesn't show much change at 66 feet (green line). As we can see in the previous graph, the changes are occurring in shallower water and will take time to reach this depth. The red line shows the intrusion of heavy seawater containing more oxygen. When comparing, remember one graph uses meters, the other feet.
Data compiled by the Integrated Ocean Observing System

Surplus salmon and the future of hatcheries

There’s money to be made in salmon carcasses at the state’s fish hatcheries. At least that’s the viewpoint of folks at the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, as I explained in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

There are two aspects to this. One idea is to speed up the handling of salmon as they arrive back at the hatchery so that they are the freshest they can be. The other aspect includes a possible restructuring of the state’s contract that involves picking up all the surplus fish — no matter what their condition.

The state has extended its contract to the company American Canadian, which has handled the surplus salmon for years. But the Legislature is requiring an examination of how these fish are managed and sold before the next contract is issued. Also, a report to the Legislature is due by Nov. 1. Please read my story for details.
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McKernan Hatchery could be operated privately

The McKernan Hatchery on Weaver Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish River, is considered an important operation by commercial chum salmon fishers and by steelhead anglers, who benefit from the fish produced there.

It is not one of the Hood Canal hatcheries we’ve often talked about that are focused on rebuilding wild salmon runs. Still, the hatchery is being operated to minimize impacts on wild salmon, as outlined in the Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan (PDF 188 kb).

Because of state budget cutbacks, McKernan was one of the salmon- and trout-rearing facilities placed on the chopping block earlier this year by the Legislature. See the story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun.

State Rep. Fred Finn, D-Olympia, and other legislators believe that private organizations should be given the opportunity to operate the hatchery. Perhaps revenues from the sale of eggs and salmon returning to the hatchery could help to keep the operation going, he said in a news release.

Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, which got its start in salmon production, is one group taking a close look at the financial end of the operation.

In the next couple of months, we’ll see how things pan out under the guidance of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Otherwise, the hatchery is scheduled for closure at the end of June.

Pacific Northwest Salmon Center finds a home

I recall a day in February of 2003 when Al Adams, Neil Werner and several others involved in the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group called me to Belfair to unveil their vision for a Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.

They had been thinking about it for years, but it was time to bring their dream out into the open and try to raise $18 million to build a 40,000-square-foot building, including an exhibit hall, classrooms, computer lab, research facilities, museum and a small theater. Check out my first story on the salmon center and initial fund-raising efforts.

Raising that amount of money has proven difficult, but the salmon center was able to acquire enough funds to secure its own property adjacent to the Theler wetlands in Belfair. Buildings at the old Jack Johnson farm have been or are being remodeled to accommodate the basic idea for the center, and managers have plans for expansion as time goes on. See my story in last Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Future expansion may be limited by provisions added to Mason County’s zoning code, which affect educational facilities located on agriculturally zoned land. But Salmon Center organizers say they will cross that bridge when it is time to grow.

For now, many people feel a sense of accomplishment at realizing their dream, scaled back at least for now. More than a few people believe that things have turned out for the best. After all, building the salmon center on a farm, with its ties to history and the community, may be a better fit for Belfair and this critical wetlands where Hood Canal begins.

An open house has been scheduled for Dec. 9 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the center, which is located at the end of Roessel Road in Belfair.

Flushing a river can move sediments out of the way

Tides can help to flush a river the way the tank on your toilet helps to flush the bowl.

That’s not a very appetizing analogy when it comes to Quilcene Bay, which is famous for its oysters. But we’re not talking about pollution here; we’re talking about the need to flush sediments that have been clogging the Biq Quilcene and Little Quilcene rivers for decades.

When biologist Randy Johnson offered this toilet analogy, it just seemed to click for me. So I used it in a story I wrote for yesterday’s Kitsap Sun about the extensive work taking place in the Little Quilcene estuary. I tried to explain how the removal of the “delta cone” at the mouth of the Little Quilcene is one step in the restoration of critical salmon habitat throughout Quilcene Bay.

A list of restoration projects in the bay, compiled by Richard Brocksmith of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, gives you an idea about how much work has been going on or is being planned.

While several groups are involved in the Quilcene effort, the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group has led the way. This group is unique among the 14 fisheries enhancement groups for the variety of efforts it has undertaken throughout Hood Canal. Check out the left margin of the story for an abbreviated history of the HCSEG.

Women inmates tackle stream restoration work

A loss in firefighting capability has been a gain for local stream restoration.

Inmates at Belfair’s Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women have been helping the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group restore local streams, including the Union River. See the story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun by reporter Josh Farley.

“One day with a crew of eight can do so much,” Julie Easton, volunteer coordinator for the enhancement group, was quoted as saying.

One of their efforts is to eradicate invasive weeds, including knotweed which can clog the streams and create serious problems for fish.

While the women help the environment, they also are learning skills that could aid them when they get out of prison. For one thing, they could qualify for a license that allows them to handle pesticides.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to become involved in planting native vegetation, counting salmon and other hands-on projects in the Hood Canal region.

One inmate crew remains in training to fight wildfires, if needed, although the Washington Department of Natural Resources has cut back its support for the program.