Officials in Washington state’s Shellfish Program have
identified a clear pathway to meet a state goal of restoring 10,800
net acres of shellfish beds to a harvestable condition by 2020.
The 10,800-acre target, established by the Puget Sound
Partnership, was considered overly ambitious by many people when
the goal was approved in 2011. Many still believe that the
shellfish restoration effort will go down in flames, along with
other goals, such as increasing chinook salmon and killer whale
populations by 2020.
In reporting on the Shellfish Implementation Strategy, a
document still under development, I’ve learned that the goal is
within reach if enough of the ongoing recovery efforts around Puget
Sound continue to make progress. Please check out my latest stories
the shellfish back” and “Closing
in on the magic number in Samish Bay,” both published in the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Federal funding to restore Puget Sound and other large U.S.
estuaries would be slashed by more than 90 percent under a
preliminary budget proposal coming from President Trump’s
Funding for Puget Sound restoration would be cut by 93 percent,
from the current budget of $28 million to just $2 million,
according to figures cited by the
Portland Oregonian and apparently circulated by the National
Association of Clean Air Agencies. Here’s
The Great Lakes, which received a big boost in spending to $300
million in the current biennium, would be hammered down to $10
million. Chesapeake Bay, currently at $73 million, would be reduced
to $5 million.
Much of this money goes for habitat protection and restoration,
the kind of effort that seems to be kicked to the bottom of the
priority list, at least in these early budget figures. The new EPA
administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears to be focusing on upgrading
water infrastructure, cleaning up toxic sites and reducing air and
water pollution, although everything is cut deeply and details
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.
A European green crab invasion may be taking place in Puget
Sound, and Washington Sea Grant intends to enhance its Crab Team
this summer with more volunteers looking in more places than ever
Training is about to get underway, and anyone with an interest
in furthering science while being exposed to the wonders of nature
may participate. It’s not always good weather, but I’ve been
inspired by the camaraderie I’ve witnessed among dedicated
The work involves going out to one or more selected sites each
month from April into September with a team of two to four other
volunteers. It is helpful to have folks who can carry the crab
traps, plastic bins and other equipment. For details, check out the
Washington Sea Grant website.
Citing pollution problems in Puget Sound, an environmental group
is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke Washington
state’s authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, says a review of
103 discharge permits issued by the Washington Department of
Ecology shows a failure to control nitrogen pollution. Excess
nitrogen reduces oxygen levels in the water and triggers algae
blooms, resulting in serious problems in Puget Sound, according to
petition submitted to the EPA.
“Ecology determined that over 80 percent of the human sources of
nitrogen in Puget Sound comes from cities and towns, but it
continues to issue discharge permits as if it were completely
ignorant of these facts,” Nina Bell, the group’s executive
director, said in a
“It’s just flat out illegal to issue permits that contribute to
harmful pollution levels,” she added. “These permits are the
walking dead, existing merely to create the impression that the
state is doing its job to control water pollution when it is
Invasive species from San Francisco Bay — known as the most
infested waterway in the country — would have an open door for
entry into Puget Sound under a bill moving through Congress.
You may have heard this line before. I posted the same warning
last summer, when the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDA, was
attached to the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act.
Ways, July 16). Opponents fought back and were able to strip
VIDA from the bill before final passage.
Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and
an anti-regulatory atmosphere in place, the bill’s passage seems
more likely this time — to the detriment of Puget Sound, the Great
Lakes and other waterways.
If VIDA passes, ships coming up the coast from California will
be able to take on infested ballast water in San Francisco Bay and
discharge it without treatment into Puget Sound. Invasive species
that hitched a ride in the ballast water would have a chance to
populate Puget Sound.
Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to
recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered
new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4
million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times
more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please
read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the
Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch
the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean.
Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook,
called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become
available for killer whales or humans.
Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young
fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they
were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the
remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an
average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number
eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in
Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers
combined, according to the study.
Two days before Donald Trump became president, the Puget Sound
Federal Task Force released a draft of the federal action plan for
the recovery of Puget Sound.
The Trump transition raises uncertainty about the future of this
plan, but at least the incoming administration has a document to
work with, as described by Steve Kopecky of the White House Council
on Environmental Quality. (See
Water Ways, Dec. 22.)
Speaking last month before the Puget Sound Partnership’s
Leadership Council, Kopecky acknowledged that the plan would go
through many changes over time, with or without a new
“That being said, the first one is probably the most powerful,”
he said. “It is the model that new folks are going to use, so we’re
trying to make sure that we have a good solid foundation model
before we all collectively go out the door.”
One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is
to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region,
as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.
Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health
as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures
that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works.
Here’s the basic idea:
“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as
researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species.
Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without
clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are
generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the
Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon
and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for
the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams
— as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool
and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.
Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is
an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound
Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint
Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both
inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan?
Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks;
I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?
Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the
Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the
right track in many ways, according to the
preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address
several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic
goals for restoration.