In a new video, Dayv Lowry of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife does a great job explaining how scientific trawling provides information about the kinds of creatures that hang out on the bottom of Puget Sound.
The video shows a big net being brought to the surface filled with crabs and all sorts of strange creatures, which are then sorted and measured right on the deck of the Chasina. This research, which has been going on for years, provides information about how populations of marine species are changing over time.
Two years ago, I joined Dayv and his crew aboard the same trawler while working on the Kitsap Sun series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” With most of the attention focused on salmon, I thought it was important to highlight lesser-known fish that play a key role in the Puget Sound ecosystem.
You may wish to check out my story, “Problems with bottom fish are coming into view.” While you’re at it, maybe take a look at the graphic “Ten Puget Sound fish you may not know much about.”
I hate to say it, but one reason that many marine fish get short shrift, compared to salmon, is that they are not as commercially valuable — but that does not mean they are not important.
Overfishing, combined with degraded habitat conditions and pollution caused many of these species to decline through the years. Three species of rockfish are now federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. For a recent update on rockfish, check out Water Ways from June 18.
It is encouraging to know that forage fish, including herring, will receive increased scrutiny with a $1.9-million boost from the Legislature, allowing studies on population, habitat and viability. Reporter Tristan Baurick wrote about this new appropriation in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun. The money should allow researchers to provide a nice status report, and I hope money will be available for ongoing monitoring into the future.
As for those species of fish caught by trawling, it’s time to figure out what role they play in the Puget Sound food web and what it will take to improve their conditions.
During the 1970s, new-fangled fish-finders and commercial fishing gear allowed for more intense fishing than ever before. State resource managers made a critical mistake in assuming that because fishing was going well, populations of bottom fish must be doing OK. Managing fishing using a steady-state fishing rate without adequate monitoring has been the downfall of fish populations throughout the world.
In Puget Sound, “the first sign of a problem came when there were no fish,” Dayv told me, only slightly exaggerating the problem.
Now the effort is to rebuild the populations, and it will likely take more than a trawler to understand where certain species reside and what is posing the greatest threat to recovery. Surveys using remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, have become an important tool, shedding light on fish living in shallow water and rocky areas where the trawler cannot go.
One thing that is still needed, however, is a map of the various types of underwater habitat throughout Puget Sound. Knowing the locations and extent of rocky versus sandy or muddy bottoms could provide a basis for estimating entire populations of marine species. Researchers are working on a computer model to do just that, but more underwater surveys are needed.
If residents of this unique region hope to restore Puget Sound to health, we must not forget about the bottom fish, which for many people tend to be out of sight and out of mind.