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.
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
For information about the volunteer effort and the threat of
green crabs, please read my stories in the Encyclopedia of Puget
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
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
“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
NWEA’s document library.
The lawsuit challenging Ecology’s actions was filed in U.S.
District Court in Seattle, where legal proceedings are moving
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.