Tag Archives: Puget Sound

Crab Team training will foster the upcoming hunt for green crab invaders

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 before.

The second European green crab identified in Puget Sound was found in Padilla Bay, where three others were later trapped.
Photo: Padilla Bay Reserve

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 volunteers.

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.

As I reported last fall, the first dreaded green crab showed up in a trap deployed on San Juan Island. See Water Ways, Sept. 3. About three weeks later, a second green crab was found was found in Padilla Bay, about 30 miles southeast of the first one. See Water Ways, Sept. 24. Intensive trapping in Padilla Bay located three more. See Water Ways, Oct. 1.

Whether green crabs find suitable conditions to allow their population to multiply is yet to be seen, but an extensive trapping effort can help identify reproductive success, locate new areas of invasion and remove individuals from the breeding population.

It’s an interesting scientific endeavor for Crab Team members. Nobody wants to find green crabs, because of the threat that they pose. Yet these volunteers know that their work may help prevent the destruction of an ecosystem that has stood the test of time. To gather background data, members count other species caught in the traps and measure their average size during the trapping period.

For information about the volunteer effort and the threat of green crabs, please read my stories in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound:

The upcoming Crab Team training will teach citizen science volunteers how to place the traps, identify and measure the crabs that get caught and record the data compiled into an extensive database.

Volunteers are especially needed to monitor sites in Skagit, San Juan, Jefferson, Clallam and Whatcom counties. If interested, one should register for one of the four training sessions:

Other sessions may be scheduled later, depending on need. One can check the Green Crab Events Calendar or email Crab Team organizers at crabteam@uw.edu

Petition seeks to revoke Department of Ecology’s clean-water authority

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.

Northwest 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 a 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 news release.

“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 not.”

The 113-page petition filed by NWEA describes the problems that nitrogen can cause and the need to implement nitrogen-removal systems, especially in sewage-treatment plants that discharge into Puget Sound. EPA should either require Ecology to take action on nitrogen or remove Ecology’s authority to issue permits under the Clean Water Act, the petition says.

Asked to respond, Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality Program, offered this statement:

“Washington’s water quality permitting program is a role model in the nation. EPA and other states follow our lead when building their programs. We are surprised that Northwest Environmental Advocates has chosen to file this petition rather to appeal the permits they cite.”

In December, the environmental group filed a lawsuit against the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for continuing to fully fund the Department of Ecology at $5 million a year to control polluted runoff under the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments.

“In 1998, the federal agencies told Washington that it was failing to control pollution from farming and logging, dairy operations, urban runoff, on-site septic systems, pesticides . . . you name it,” said Bell in a December news release.

“There is no evidence that at any point in the last 18 years Washington has improved its control of polluted runoff,” she said. “Certainly Puget Sound is as polluted as ever. The passage of time demonstrates that the agencies’ decision to continue unlawful federal funding has not produced results.”

The lawsuit asserts that federal law requires that the EPA and NOAA withhold at least one-third of the federal funds from states that fail to obtain approval for their plans to control nonpoint source runoff, such as stormwater. Since 1998, the state has been on notice that its plan was not acceptable.

NWEA filed a similar lawsuit in Oregon in 2009 and settled out of court a year later, according to Bell. But the state’s proposed pollution plan was disapproved in 2015, and Oregon’s annual funding was subsequently cut by $1.2 million. For documents in the Oregon case, see NWEA’s document library.

The lawsuit challenging Ecology’s actions was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, where legal proceedings are moving forward.

Ballast water bill could allow invasive species to enter Puget Sound

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.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act invasive species
Ballast discharge from a ship
Photo: Coast Guard

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. (Water 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.

A similar scenario could play out in the Great Lakes, where lack of treatment years ago may have resulted in the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels, causing billions of dollars in damages. Check out the opinion column by the Green Bay Press-Gazette Editorial Board.

The legislation also would exempt small commercial vessels and fishing boats from federal discharge rules. That would allow these vessel owners to clean their hulls in open water wherever they want — even if the hulls were covered with invasive species, said Allen Pleus, who heads Washington state’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

VIDA opponents — including the governors of nine coastal and Great Lakes states — are trying to attach amendments to the bill to shore up protections for their states’ waters, Allen told me. But representatives of the shipping industry, who have been pushing hard to get the bill passed, appear to be in no mood for compromise.

The legislation, S. 168, was passed out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation without amendment two weeks ago. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a member of the committee, was unable to stop it.

“Puget Sound restoration is a priority for me, and that’s why I voted ‘no’ on the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act in the Commerce Committee,” she said in a short email. “Strong protections to prevent pollution and halt the introduction of invasive species are two key priorities needed to keep Puget Sound healthy and productive. I will continue to work to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems and support our sustainable fishing and maritime economy.”

For years, the shipping industry has been frustrated by a multi-level regulatory system in which they must comply with “clean water” rules coming at them from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and any number of states that have developed their own regulations. Who can blame the industry for being frustrated? Industry officials would like one national standard to follow.

In the furor over regulations, however, many people have forgotten that state and EPA rules were imposed only after the Coast Guard failed to protect the environment. VIDA would address the problem, but not by considering the serious concerns being faced in different parts of the country. The bill would place the Coast Guard in charge of a single national standard, stripping authority from the states and EPA.

While the Coast Guard requires ballast water to be treated or exchanged on ships crossing the ocean from other countries, there is no such requirement for ships moving along the coast if they don’t have treatment systems on board.

Coast Guard officials have many duties when it comes to ensuring the safety of ships, and invasive species are not among their priorities, noted Allen Pleus, whose program resides within the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Industry officials have told me that state concerns can be addressed by petitioning the Coast Guard for stricter rules in those geographic areas where they are needed. But that could take months or years with no assurance of approval. More importantly, there are no stop-gap measures to prevent ships from dumping infested ballast water into Puget Sound. Everyone knows that once an invasive species gets established, there is no going back.

This is a complicated issue, which I tried to explain step-by-step in last summer’s blog post, as well as in a detailed story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Changes are coming with new ballast-water-treatment systems being certified by the Coast Guard. The new treatment systems are technologically complicated, and trained operators are needed to make sure they kill a fair number of invasive organisms, as designed, Allen said. Without adequate funding, the Coast Guard will be in no position to make sure that invasive species aren’t transported from place to place, he said, adding, “States should be allowed to pick up the slack.”

There is another important difference between Washington state’s approach and that of the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard conducts inspections and checks paperwork only after a vessel has arrived in port. State rules require ship operators to send documentation prior to arrival, allowing time to address potential problems before it is too late.

A letter to U.S. senators (PDF 236 kb) from seven governors, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, expresses grave concern about the effects of VIDA on the waters of their states.

“The economic and regulatory issues faced by the shipping industry are of great interest to our states,” the letter says. “However, VIDA does not provide a reasonable balance between the economic benefits of the shipping industry and the significant environmental, economic, and human health costs states face from infested and polluted waters.”

Recent information compiled by VIDA opponents:

Seals and sea lions may be undercutting chinook and orca populations

Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered killer whales.

A 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 Kitsap Sun.

Harbor seals rest on the breakwater at Poulsbo Marina. // Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

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.

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Federal Action Plan for Puget Sound released as Trump enters office

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.

Puget Sound from space // Image: NASA

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 president.

“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.”

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Stream ‘bugs’ will help guide funding for future stream restoration

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.

Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. Photo: C. Dunagan
Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. // Photo: C. Dunagan

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 worst conditions.”

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.

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Report: It’s time to shift the deadlines for Puget Sound restoration

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.

Structure

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.

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Congress authorizes five restoration projects throughout Puget Sound

Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed yesterday by President Obama.

It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a long list of possible projects to five. See Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.

In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson, D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The three PSNRP projects moving forward are:

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Kongsgaard departs Puget Sound Partnership; Manning assumes chair

Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore Puget Sound to health.

Martha Kongsgaard
Martha Kongsgaard

Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.

While listening to presentations on technical and financial issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key issues of recovery while asking how to help average people understand the complex problems.

As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old stories told in a new way.

Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better future.

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Upgrade to North Pacific fishing fleet benefits Puget Sound economy

A major “modernization” of the North Pacific fishing fleet has begun, bringing new jobs to the Puget Sound region and a potential boost of $1.3 billion in total economic activity over the next 10 years, according to a new study.

Fishermen’s Terminal from the Ballard Bridge, Seattle. Photo: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons
Fishermen’s Terminal from the Ballard Bridge, Seattle. // Photo: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons

If economic and environmental conditions allow, 37 new fishing boats and fish-processing vessels over 58 feet long will be built, bringing new efficiencies to fishing and increased safety to those working in the North Pacific — an area off the Alaskan coast. Most North Pacific vessels over 58 feet are home-ported in Puget Sound.

Ship-building companies in the Puget Sound region are expected to be the primary beneficiaries of this modernization, as half of all the new vessels will come out of Washington state, according to predictions in the report. The study was conducted by the McDowell Group, an Alaska-based consulting company hired by the Port of Seattle and Washington Maritime Federation.

Although many factors are in play, a key impetus for this modernization is the development of catch shares — a type of management system that divides the allowable harvest into individual fishing quotas, or IFCs. This management regime, sometimes called fisheries “rationalization,” avoids the wasteful and sometimes dangerous race once seen among fishing vessels, as each crew tries to catch the most fish within a specified time period or before a total quota is reached.

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