Tag Archives: Kitsap Peninsula

It’s time to get out and watch the salmon

This year’s return of chum salmon to Hood Canal remains on track to break the record, coming in with four times as many fish as predicted earlier this year.

Watching salmon at Poulsbo's Fish Park Photo by Tristan Baurick
Watching salmon from a bridge in Poulsbo’s Fish Park
Photo by Tristan Baurick

Last week, I reported that the total run size for Hood Canal fall chum appeared to be about 1.4 million fish, according to computer models. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 30 (subscription). The modern-day record is 1.18 million, set in 2003. If conditions hold, this year’s run will easily exceed that.

The large Hood Canal run also is expected to provide an economic boost of some $5 million to $6 million for commercial fishers, not including fish processors and stores that sell the fish.

The forecast models are based largely on commercial harvests. Data collected since I wrote the story only tend to confirm the record-breaking run, according to salmon managers. Final estimates won’t be compiled until the end of the season.

The chum run in Central and South Puget Sound also are looking very good. The latest data suggest that the run could reach 700,000, or nearly twice the preseason estimate and well above average.

Meanwhile, the large chum runs are attracting Puget Sound’s orcas to the waters off Bainbridge Island and Seattle, as chinook runs decline in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. As I described in a story on Sunday, it has been an odd year for the whales, which may have spent most of the summer chasing chinook off the coast of Washington. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2 (subscription).

A chum salmon crosses a log weir at Kitsap Golf and Country Club. Photo by Meegan Reid
A chum salmon crosses a log weir in Chico Creek at Kitsap Golf and Country Club.
Photo by Meegan Reid

The large chum run also promises to provide some great viewing opportunities for people to watch the salmon migration in their local streams. I would direct you to the interactive salmon-viewing map that Amy Phan and I completely revamped last year for the Kitsap Sun’s website. The map includes videos describing salmon streams across the Kitsap Peninsula.

Speaking of salmon-watching, everyone is invited to Saturday’s Kitsap Salmon Tours, an annual event in which biologists talk about the amazing salmon and their spawning rituals. One can choose to visit one or both of the locations in Central Kitsap. For details, check out the Kitsap Public Utility District’s Website.

One of the locations, now named Chico Salmon Park, is undergoing a major facelift, thanks to more than 100 hours of volunteer labor over the past two weekends — not to mention earlier work going back to the beginning of the year. See the Kitsap County news release issued today.

Volunteers working on the park deserve a lot of credit for removing blackberry vines, Scotchbroom and weeds from this overgrown area. This property, which has Chico Creek running through it, is going to be a wonderful park someday after native trees and plants become established. (See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2013)

If you’re into kayaking, there’s still time to watch from the water. See Olympic Outdoors Center or check out the tips by reporter Tristan Baurick, Kitsap Sun, Oct. 21, 2013 (subscription).

Here’s my final word: If you live on the Kitsap Peninsula — or anywhere around Puget Sound — you should visit a salmon stream to learn what all the fuss is about — and be sure to take the kids.

Purse seine boats working on major chum salmon run on Hood Canal. Photo by Larry Steagall
Purse seine boats make the best of a major chum salmon run on Hood Canal last week.
Photo by Larry Steagall

Steelhead listing brings protection to smaller streams

The little streams and tributaries on the Kitsap Peninsula and elsewhere in Puget Sound are destined for special attention under a proposal to designate critical habitat for Puget Sound steelhead. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Acoustic tags help researchers track the movement of steelhead in Puget Sound.
Acoustic tags help researchers track the movement of steelhead in Puget Sound.
Kitsap Sun file photo

When it comes to endangered and threatened species, most of the attention has been given to Puget Sound chinook, which migrate to the larger rivers and often spawn in mainstem waters and larger tributaries.

As a reporter, I’ve also paid attention through the years to Hood Canal summer chum, which come into the streams along Hood Canal in the late summer and early fall. They generally spawn in the lower part of the streams, because water has not yet arrived to fill upstream tributaries.

Steelhead are an entirely different kind of fish, coming into our local streams in the winter months and swimming upstream as far as they can go. Steelhead may not die after spawning, so they can repeatedly return to spawn again and again.

With adequate rains, there is almost no place on the Kitsap Peninsula where steelhead cannot go. In that respect, they are similar to coho salmon, a fall spawner that remains on the borderline for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Many biologists tell me that protections for steelhead will go a long way to protecting our depressed coho runs as well.

What is needed more than anything is more research on the ecological values of the smaller streams on the Kitsap Peninsula and South Sound region. Where have steelhead been found historically, and what can we do to improve the habitat for them?

On the positive side, it is often easier to fix the smaller streams. Culverts can be replaced, side channels created and streamside vegetation planted, all at less cost than on our major rivers.

On the other hand, given our tight state and federal budgets, we are not likely to see more money for salmon and steelhead restoration. We’ll probably have to spread the existing dollars further. In fact, I’ve been told that some people in chinook territory have tried to slow down the steelhead-recovery effort, because it will mean less money for chinook recovery. And they may have been successful.

Puget Sound steelhead were listed as “threatened” nearly five years ago. The Endangered Species Act calls for designating critical habitat within one year of the listing, but NOAA concluded that the designation was “not determinable” at that time. Now, more information is available, the agency says.

Elsewhere, five populations of West Coast steelhead were listed as “threatened” in August 1997, and four others were listed in March 1998. Critical habitat for all nine listed species of steelhead was proposed in February 1999 and completed a year later. (Their status was later reconsidered, which led to the official listing date actually coming after designation of critical habitat.) As a result of a lawsuit, the court scheduled the deadlines for those steelhead.

Biologists are now working on a recovery plan for Puget Sound steelhead in consultation with local governments throughout the region. The ESA does not provide a firm deadline for approving a recovery plan, although federal agencies attempt to get them done within a few years after listing.

More information can be found on the website “Critical Habitat for Lower Columbia River Coho & Puget Sound Steelhead.”

Pollution message showing at a theater near you

If you’ve been going to the movies on the Kitsap Peninsula and you arrive before the previews for upcoming films, you’ve probably watched a promotional clip about reducing pollution from cars.

The promo, at right, was produced by Seattle Public Utilities, and its use was granted to the West Sound Stormwater Outreach Group free of charge. The educational group, which promotes clean-water efforts, is made up of Kitsap County and its four cities plus Gig Harbor and Port Townsend.

For about $5,000, the consortium was able to get the promo into all the major theaters except for Bremerton’s new downtown theater, which wasn’t open when the deal was made.

“The neat thing about this is that we are trying to reach out to a younger audience, 18- to 24-year-olds, who tend to go to the movie theaters, and they tend to get there early,” said Liz Satterthwaite, education and outreach coordinator for Kitsap County.

It’s an age group that can play a critical role in the battle against pollution, but it’s a group that’s not easy to reach, she said. Television commercials are expensive, and most people don’t like ads on their cellphones or pop-ups on websites.

Being somewhat entertaining and offering a positive spin to the problem, movie theaters seemed like a great place to show the clip.

Other stormwater-education groups in the Puget Sound region may be approaching local theaters to show this clip in the future.

Other recent efforts by the West Sound stormwater group include an online ad on the Kitsap Sun’s website and graphics on Kitsap County street sweepers and trucks likely to be seen on the streets. Some of these messages on wheels say things like “Sweeping for a healthy sound.” Others display the Water Pollution Hotline for reporting pollution problems, (360) 337-5777.

Kitsap County also is experimenting with a community newsletter about Puget Sound and local issues. They are being sent to homes in a targeted area, first Manchester, then Kingston. The next is planned for North Dyes Inlet, including Silverdale and surrounding areas.

Surveys have shown that people are becoming more aware of stormwater pollution and the steps they can take to reduce the amount of dirty water getting into our waterways.

Feel free to add your thoughts on this blog entry, or jump to the comment section of the cinema ad itself.

Researchers focus on forage fish and shorelines

UPDATE: June 26

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has taken a major step in the protection of unregulated forage fish with a resolution calling for increased studies and possible fishing restrictions. The resolution begins:

“It is the Council’s intent to recognize the importance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem off our coast, and to provide adequate protection for forage fish. We declare that our objective is to prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by our Council, or the States, until we have an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to the fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

Read the entire resolution on the PFMC’s website.
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In the end, the plankton and the tiny fish that eat them may reveal the real story about Puget Sound.

USGS researchers Dave Ayers, Ryan Tomka and Collin Smith haul in their net at Fay Bainbridge Park last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

As I wrote in a story for Monday’s Kitsap Sun:

“While killer whales and salmon dominate the public spotlight, researchers are focusing increasing attention near the bottom of the food web and on the physical processes that support all life in Puget Sound.”

The story focuses on studies related to forage fish and hydrogeological processes along the shorelines of the Kitsap Peninsula, but it ties into everything we know about Puget Sound.

One project, led by U.S. Geological Survey researcher Theresa “Marty” Liedtke, is studying the extent to which sand lance and surf smelt depend on eelgrass beds. The project is part of the agency’s investigation called “Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS). Check out the CHIPS website for further information.

The other study, by geologist Wendy Gerstel of Qwg Applied Geology, is part of a larger grant project dealing with shoreline processes funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendy has been studying sources of sediment that feed the beaches in Kitsap County. She is preparing to use what she has found to make recommendations about potential shoreline-restoration projects.

Her project and related issues will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop called “Kitsap’s Shorelines and Restoration Opportunities: A Landowner Workshop.”

Participants will learn about beach processes and shoreline ecology and hear from researchers studying shoreline erosion and sediment sources along Kitsap County shorelines. The workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, and everyone is invited.

Another development involving sand lance, surf smelt and other “unmanaged” forage fish is a proposal for the Pacific Fishery Management Council to initiate a process that could eventually lead to fisheries regulations.

Protecting all forage fish seems to be a goal of many environmental organizations, as one can see in the public comments section of PFMC’s agenda (Item G.1) for Saturday’s meeting in San Mateo, Calif.

Steve Marx of the Pew Environment Group wrote a 12-page letter in support of managing for protection:

“To date the Council has received over 19,000 individual pieces of correspondence from engaged members of the public, urging it to take action to protect forage species for the sake of a healthy ecosystem, sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.

“Over 110 licensed commercial fishermen and women on the West Coast have written to the Council, urging it to prevent new fisheries from developing on forage species until adequate science is available. Additionally, a diverse list of both commercial and recreational fishing organizations have advocated for the
Council to implement needed forage protections, including a reversal on the burden of proof for new forage fisheries.

“The regional fishery management council process encourages public participation, and we hope that this strong show of public support for protecting unmanaged
forage species is helpful as the Council continues its deliberation on how best to proceed.”

Is Kitsap becoming kayak capital of Puget Sound?

Among locals, the Kitsap Peninsula has long been known as a great place to go kayaking, but now the 300+ miles of shoreline are quickly becoming a destination for out-of-area folks.

Kayakers paddle near Port Gamble.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

A new map of Kitsap’s shoreline features has been produced for the paddle crowd by the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau. The map is helpful for those trying to identify stopping points along the shoreline — whether one wants to spend days on the water or just a few hours.

Patricia Graf-Hoke, manager of the visitor bureau, said she believes it is the first map of its kind in Washington state and may be just the second or third in the nation.

Tourism on the Kitsap Peninsula is growing, she told the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council last week. As a whole, it is becoming a major industry and one of the largest employers in Kitsap County.

In a Kitsap Sun story about the new map, John Kuntz, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center, told reporter Rachel Pritchett that more than half the people who paddle around the peninsula come from somewhere else.

“It’s definitely a part of tourism that Kitsap County hasn’t really embraced in the past,” Kuntz was quoted as saying.

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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.

‘Water Courses’ will connect people to current issues

If you would like to learn about today’s leading water issues without being overwhelmed with technical details, you may be interested in a two-day seminar coordinated by WSU Kitsap County Extension and Washington Sea Grant.

The event, Oct. 14 and 15, is called “Water Courses: Connecting West Sound.” A number of impressive speakers are lined up for the two-day event. The first day is dedicated to research findings and restoration projects, with the second day focusing on the personal level, including how people can address today’s environmental problems.

While speaking of events, I should mention the latest in the Sustainable Cinema Series, sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. The film is called “The Age of Stupid.” It’s a retrospective look at today’s response to climate change from the perspective of people living in 2055. The film will be shown at Port Orchard’s Dragonfly Cinema at 6:30 p.m., with a discussion to follow. For details, see the Kitsap County homepage.

As for “Water Courses,” Peg Tillery, who coordinates Kitsap County Beach Watchers, said the seminar grew out of a desire to help residents of the Kitsap Peninsula get in touch with the water issues of today. Educational programs have been ongoing in other parts of Puget Sound, but nothing as wide-ranging as “Water Courses” has ever been held for a general audience in Kitsap County.

A coordinating committee started putting the program together by asking their friends and neighbors what they would like to know about water, Puget Sound and environmental issues. As a result, the topics have a greater down-home flavor than you’ll find at most conferences.

“Our goal is to have it every single year around this time, when people are back in school and the monsoons have started,” Peg told me. “Anyone 12 years old and older may attend, and we’ve tried to keep the cost low.”

Topics the first day include ocean acidity, water quality studies in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, pollution modeling in Bremerton’s Sinclair Inlet, marine reserves in Puget Sound, energy and sustainability initiatives, and the effects of stormwater on salmon.

The second day offers participants choices, with six topical tracks to choose from: science; food from the sea; going green; animals and critters; water quality, safety and getting involved; and plants and landscaping. One can stay on a single track for the full day or choose your favorite topics from among 36 presentations.

Check out the schedule and sign up early on the Kitsap Extension website. The cost is not much more than the catered lunch that will be provided. It’s $30 for the first day, $25 for the second day or $45 for both days.

Keegan Kimbrough, 15, designed a poster for “Water Courses: Connecting West Sound,” shown above.

Commissioner Bauer leaves environmental legacy

Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer may have been appointed to his county post because of his financial abilities, but his concern for the environment will be his legacy for the county.

Steve Bauer

That’s the opinion of his fellow commissioner, Josh Brown, who talked about Bauer last week during Bauer’s last formal meeting of the commissioners.

Bauer, a former member of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board, had been city manager in Bellevue. He also served for nine years as director of finance and administration for the city of Portland.

In Bauer’s four years as a Kitsap County commissioner, his financial abilities have proven useful as the county suffered through a “financial meltdown” and severe budget cuts as a result of the recession, Brown said, adding that the county’s budget has been slashed from $89 million to $80 million in a single year.

From the first time they sat together as commissioners, Brown said it became clear that Bauer’s greatest passion was for cleaning up Puget Sound.

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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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Interview with David Dicks, Puget Sound Partnership

The Kitsap Sun Editorial Board, which includes community members as well as Sun employees, sat down yesterday with David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership.
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