Last week, while looking into some early research findings about
Puget Sound rockfish (Water
Ways, June 18), I found an amusing video, one created to
encourage anglers to save the lives of rockfish when releasing the
The video begins with a talking rockfish (puppet) sitting at a
desk and watching a music video. That leads into a conversation
about barotrauma, a type of injury to rockfish that results when
the fish are caught and brought to the surface from deep water.
Barotrauma can be reversed — and the lives of fish saved — by using
a device to get the fish back down deep.
If you fish in deep water, you probably already know about this
device, but I think everyone can be amused by this video and
appreciate how humor can help introduce people to a serious
The first couple minutes of the video introduces the viewer to
the problem of barotrauma in simple terms, followed by about five
minutes of product reviews showing various devices to reduce the
effects on fish. If you are not interested in the technical side of
things, you can skip over this part and go to 6:55 in the video.
There you will hear the funny rap song about fishing for rockfish,
including a line about “sending them back to where you got
The music video, “Rockfish
Recompression,” was written and sung by Ray Troll and Russell
Wodehouse. Wodehouse is the musician appearing in the video. Those
two and others have long performed as the group Ratfish Wranglers,
creating funny tunes about fish and related issues.
If you’d like to hear more from this group, check out these
This week’s announcement that the coastal population of canary
rockfish had dramatically rebounded got me to wondering what new
information might be coming from research on the threatened and
endangered rockfish of Puget Sound.
Dayv Lowry, research scientist at the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, shared some intriguing new information about
Puget Sound rockfish that could link into the coastal population.
In fact, if limited genetic findings hold up, a delisting of one
type of Puget Sound rockfish could be in order.
On Monday, the Pacific
Fishery Management Council reported that West Coast populations
of two groundfish species — canary rockfish and petrale sole — have
been “rebuilt” some 42 years earlier than expected. Canary rockfish
were declared “overfished” in 2000, and a rebuilding plan was put
in place a year later. Strict fishing restrictions were imposed,
and experts expected the stock to rebound successfully by 2057.
“This is a big deal,” former council chairman Dan Wolford said
news release. “We now have six times more canary rockfish than
when we scaled back so many fisheries. This shows the Pacific
council’s conservation policies work.”
Meanwhile, WDFW and NOAA Fisheries are researching the three
species of Puget Sound rockfish listed under the Endangered Species
Act. They are canary
rockfish and yelloweye
rockfish, both listed as threatened, and bacaccio,
listed as endangered.
Underwater surveys with a remotely operated vehicle in 2012 and
2013 looked for all sorts of bottomfish across a grid laid down on
Puget Sound. Researchers found a greater abundance of quillback and
copper rockfish (not ESA listed) than in the past, and young
juvenile quillbacks were seen on muddy substrate — not the place
you would normally look for rockfish.
While that was encouraging, nearly 200 hours of video at 197
grid points revealed just two canary and five yelloweye
“That was quite distressing to us,” Dayv said.
This year and next, surveys are more focused on rocky habitat,
including locations where fishing guides say they have had success
catching rockfish in the past. The results are more encouraging,
locating somewhere around 40 canary and 40 yelloweye and two
bacaccio, Dayv said.
“We’ve caught some big fish and some little fish, so the
population demographics have not entirely collapsed,” Dayv told me,
and that means there is still hope for recovery.
Rockfish don’t typically reproduce until somewhere between 5 and
20 years old, so over-fishing places the future of the entire
population at risk. Some rockfish are known to live as long as 100
Finding juvenile yelloweyes — “bright red with ‘racing stripes’”
— is especially encouraging Dayv said.
Genetic work so far is offering some intriguing new findings, he
noted. While yelloweye rockfish from Puget Sound and the Strait of
Georgia seem to be distinct from those on the coast, the same
cannot be said for canary rockfish.
In fact, the limited samples taken so far suggest that the
coastal population of canary rockfish — those found by the PFMC to
be “rebuilt” — may not be genetically distinct from canary rockfish
living in Puget Sound.
If that proves to be the case, it could have a profound effect
on what we understand about canary rockfish and could even lead to
a de-listing of the Puget Sound population.
Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries, cautioned
that the sample size is small and more results are needed before
anyone can draw conclusions. New samples are soon to be examined to
see if there are any differences between canary rockfish on the
coast and those in Puget Sound.
“What initially may seem to be the same could change
dramatically with all these new samples we just got,” he told me.
“Still just finding them is good news.”
When the Puget Sound rockfish were listed in 2010, researchers
did not have the genetic data to define the populations in that
way, so they used reasonable assumptions about geographic
isolation. Now, the genetics can be factored in.
A five-year review is due to be completed this year for the
listed rockfish in Puget Sound. If the new genetics information
holds up, then the technical review team could propose a delisting
of the canary rockfish.
For that reason, a long-awaited recovery plan for rockfish is
being completed for the most part, but its release will be delayed
until the genetic information is conclusive and the five-year
review is completed. It would not make sense to come out with a
recovery plan for canary rockfish, if the plan is to delist the
Meanwhile, small areas of Quilcene and Dabob bays have been
reopened to fishing for some flatfish. (See earlier news release.)
Bottom fishing is generally closed in Hood Canal because of the
ongoing low-oxygen problems and its effects of bottom fish.
As in other areas of Puget Sound, targeted bottom fishing must
take place in less than 120 feet of water, and all rockfish caught
must be released. Experts strongly advise using a “descending
device” (see video) to get rockfish safely back to deep water, no
matter where they are caught. Without that, many of the fish die
from barotrauma caused by the ballooning of their swim bladder as
they are brought to the surface. See
“Bring That Fish Down” by California Sea Grant and “Protecting
Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.
I missed the annual trek to Olympia this year to meet with state
and tribal salmon managers, recreational and commercial fishermen
and others involved in setting fishing seasons. The event, held in
March, is both a reunion and the official start of some serious
talks about salmon.
I’ve always enjoyed the discussions about the number of various
salmon stocks expected to return to diverse areas of Puget Sound,
the Washington Coast and the Columbia River. Years ago, I observed
much more horse-trading — or rather salmon-trading — as experts
made decisions about how far inland the fish should be allowed to
swim before being caught.
Saving enough fish to make it back to the streams to spawn has
always been the goal of the negotiating process, known as “North of
Falcon” — so named because the discussions are focused on an area
north of Cape Falcon in Oregon. I have to say, however, that the
discussions began to change after Puget Sound chinook were declared
“threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and conservation
measures became even more important.
Chinook recovery has not been going well, even after major
reforms in harvest management, hatchery operations and habitat
restoration. So the need to protect the salmon from fishing
pressures grows ever greater and the opportunities to catch fish in
particular areas continue to decline.
Such was the case this year, when salmon managers decided to
forego fishing for chinook in the popular fishing area known as
Area 10 between Bremerton and Seattle. Other salmon can still be
caught there, but all chinook — even those reared in a hatchery —
must be released.
I was not around to observe how the negotiations went this year,
having retired from the staff of the Kitsap Sun in October. (I’m
now doing some in-depth reporting for the Sun and currently
covering the Legislature for InvestigateWest.) It appears that
recreational and commercial fishers believe that the salmon
managers could have carved out some fishing seasons in the area
without risking survival of the species.
“We fought hard just to keep what we had last year, and then to
get the rug pulled out from under us is totally incomprehensible,”
said Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, quoted
in a story by
Seattle Times reporter Mark Yuasa.
“With increasing (licensing) fees and the declining fishing
opportunities, it makes it really difficult,” said Karl Brackmann,
a Puget Sound Anglers board member, quoted in a story by
Kitsap Sun reporter Tristan Baurick.
Even though sophisticated computer models try to determine how
many salmon will be coming back to a given area, it’s still a
guess. Deciding how many fish can be safely caught is always a
judgment call. I guess this year managers have concerns not only
for the wild chinook but also the marked hatchery chinook. The
hatchery chinook, marked by removing the adipose fin, are normally
considered free for the taking as long as unmarked wild chinook are
Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries
Commission, said fishing reductions were especially painful for
tribal and state managers this year, but the cutbacks were
necessary. Salmon returns were poor last year, she said, and
managers were concerned about ocean conditions and a low snowpack
that could lead to increased stream temperatures.
“Because of these conditions we may see an increase in
pre-spawning mortality of salmon this year, which required the
tribal and state co-managers to be extra cautious in setting
seasons,” Loomis said in a
Anglers will still have good opportunities to catch coho, pink
and Skagit River sockeye, according to Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound
recreational fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish
“Fishing for pink salmon should be excellent in Puget Sound,
including in Hood Canal and Dungeness Bay,” Lothrop said in a
For details on the fishing seasons, check out the North of Falcon
webpage, which will be updated as new information becomes
Climate change appears to be altering the flow characteristics
of Puget Sound salmon streams, and the outcome could be an
increased risk of extinction for chinook salmon, according to a new
I’ve long been interested in how new housing and commercial
development brings more impervious surfaces, such as roads,
driveways and roofs. The effect is to decrease the amount of water
that infiltrates into the ground and to increase surface flows into
Stormwater experts talk about how streams become “flashy,” as
flows rise quickly when it rains then drop back to low levels,
because less groundwater is available to filter into the
The new study, reported in the journal “Global
Change Biology,” suggests that something similar may be
happening with climate change but for somewhat different
Climate models predict that rains in the Puget Sound region will
become more intense, thus causing streams to rise rapidly even in
areas where stormwater is not an issue. That seems to be among the
recent findings by researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries
Science Center and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:
“Over the last half century, river flows included in our
analysis have become more variable — particularly in winter — and
these changes are a stronger predictor of chinook population growth
than changes in average winter flows or climate signals in the
“While other impacts to this ecosystem, such as habitat
degradation, may be hypothesized as responsible for these trends in
flow variation, we found support for increasing flow variation in
high-altitude rivers with relatively low human impacts.”
Joseph Anderson of WDFW, an author of the report, told me that
chinook salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species
Act, may be particularly vulnerable to dramatic changes in
streamflows. That’s because spawning chinook tend to show up before
winter storms arrive — when the rivers at their lowest levels. The
fish are forced to lay their eggs in a portion of the river that
will undergo the most forceful flows once the rains begin to
High flows can scour eggs out of the gravel and create serious
problems for emerging fry, Joe said. Other factors may come into
play, but the researchers found a strong correlation between the
sudden variation in streamflows and salmon survival.
In the lower elevations, where development is focused, flow
variability could result from both impervious surfaces on the land
and more intense rainstorms. Efforts to infiltrate stormwater into
the ground will become even more important as changes in climate
bring more intense storms.
Stormwater management is an issue I’ve written about for years,
including parts of last year’s series called “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound.” See
Kitsap Sun, July 16, 2014. Rain gardens, pervious pavement and
infiltration ponds are all part of a growing strategy to increase
groundwater while reducing the “flashiness” of streams.
Other strategies involve restoring rivers to a more natural
condition by rebuilding side channels and flood plains to divert
excess water when streams are running high.
According to the report’s findings, the variability of winter
flows has increased for 16 of the 20 rivers studied, using data
from the U.S. Geological Survey. The only rivers showing less
variability were the Cedar, Duwamish, Upper Skagit and
The effect of this streamflow variability was shown to be a more
critical factor for chinook survival and growth than peak, total or
average streamflow. Also less of a factor were ocean conditions,
such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and related ocean
Eric Ward, of Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author
on the study, said many researchers have focused attention on how
higher water temperatures will affect salmon as climate change
progresses. High-temperature and drought conditions in California,
for example, could damage the organs of salmon, such as their
Salmon swimming up the Columbia River and its tributaries could
encounter dangerously warm waters as they move east into areas
growing more arid. Some salmon species are more vulnerable to
temperature, while streamflow may be more important for others.
Coho salmon, for example, spend their first summer in freshwater,
which makes extreme low levels a critical factor.
Eric told me that further studies are looking into how various
conditions can affect each stage of a salmon’s life, conditions
that vary by species. One goal is to build complex life-cycle
models for threatened species, such as chinook and steelhead, to
determine their needs under the more extreme conditions we can
expect in the future.
National Marine Fisheries Service has designated more than 1,000
square miles of Puget Sound as “critical habitat” for rockfish — a
colorful, long-lived fish decimated by over-fishing and
In Hood Canal, we know that thousands of rockfish have been
killed by low-oxygen conditions, and their populations have been
slow to recover because of low reproductive rates. Elsewhere,
rockfish are coming back with mixed success, helped in some
locations by marine protected areas.
The final designation of critical habitat was announced today in
Federal Register for yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish,
both listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and
bocaccio, listed as “endangered.”
The critical habitat listing includes 590 square miles of
nearshore habitat for canary rockfish and bocaccio, and 414 square
miles of deepwater habitat for all three species. Nearshore areas
include kelp forests important for the growth and survival of
juvenile rockfish. Deeper waters are used for shelter, food and
reproduction by adults.
Potential critical habitat was reduced by 15 percent for canary
rockfish and bocaccio and by 28 percent for yelloweye rockfish.
Most of the excluded area was deemed already protected, either by
tribes near their reservations or by the military near Navy and
Army bases and their operational areas.
The designated habitat overlaps in large part with existing
critical habitat for salmon, killer whales and bull trout. The only
new areas added without overlap are some deep-water areas in Hood
Under the law, federal actions within designated habitat must
undergo consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Such actions — which include funding or issuing permits for private
development — cannot be approved if they are found to be
detrimental to the continuing survival of the species.
“Saving rockfish from extinction requires protecting some of the
most important places they live, and that’s exactly what’s
happening now in the Puget Sound. These habitat protections will
not only give rockfish a fighting chance at survival but will help
all of the animals that live in these waters.”
The three species of rockfish were placed on the Endangered
Species List in 2010, following a series of petitions by biologist
Sam Wright. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity notified
the National Marine Fisheries Service of its
intent to file a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in designating
Federal and state biologists are now working on a recovery plan.
I have not heard whether they still hope to get the plan completed
Rockfish are unusual among bony fishes in that fertilization and
embryo development are internal. Female rockfish give birth to live
young. After birth, the larval rockfish may drift in shallow waters
for several months, feeding on plankton. Among the listed
Canary rockfish can reach up to 2.5 feet in length. Adults have
bright yellow to orange mottling over gray, three orange stripes
across the head and orange fins. They can live to be 75 years
Bocaccio can reach up to 3 feet in length. They have a
distinctively long jaw extending to the eye socket. Adult colors
range from olive to burnt orange or brown. Their age is difficult
to determine, but they may live as long as 50 years.
Yelloweye rockfish can reach up to 3.5 feet in length and 39
pounds in weight. They are orange-red to orange-yellow in color and
may have black on their fin tips. Their eyes are bright yellow.
They are among the longest lived of rockfishes, living up to 118
“These declines have largely been caused by historical fishing
practices, although several other stress factors play a part in
their decline. Rockfish in urban areas are exposed to high levels
of chemical contamination, which may be affecting their
reproductive success. Poor water quality in Hood Canal has resulted
in massive periodic kills of rockfish as well as other species.
Lost or abandoned fishing nets trap and kill large numbers of
The plan identifies these objectives to restore the
Place the highest priority on protecting and restoring the
natural production of indicator rockfishes to healthy levels,
Promote natural production through the appropriate use of
hatcheries and artificial habitats,
Protect and restore all marine habitat types for all rockfish
Manage all Puget Sound fisheries to ensure the health and
productivity of all rockfish stocks,
Protect and restore existing functions of rockfish in the
complex ecosystem and food web in Puget Sound,
Conduct monitoring of indicator stocks to evaluate stock status
and management actions,
Implement new research to understand the diversity, biology and
productivity of indicator rockfish, and
Conduct a strategic outreach and education program to inform
Washington citizens of the value of rockfish stocks and to promote
About $22 million in state and federal grants were awarded last
week for Puget Sound ecosystem restoration, another installment in
the struggle to nurse Puget Sound back to health.
About $12 million in state and federal funds came through the
Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, or ESRP, under the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. As the name suggests,
these funds are focused on improving nearshore and ecosystem
Another $10 million came from the Puget Sound Acquisition and
Restoration (PSAR) Fund, which is focused mainly on salmon
restoration. More of those funds will be awarded before the end of
Reporter Tad Sooter and I wrote about the West Sound projects in
Friday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription required), focusing a good
deal of our attention on a key acquisition of property on the
Bainbridge Island shoreline along Agate Passage.
The property includes 4.5 acres of tidelands, including 550 feet
of undeveloped beach, along with 7.5 acres of upland woods and
meadows, all to be preserved by the Bainbridge Island Land
Brenda Padgham, stewardship director for land trust, told Tad
that this property is one of the last intact nearshore habitats on
Bainbridge Island. “The whole reach is so pristine,” she said.
Of the $1.2 million provided for the Bainbridge Island purchase,
$810,000 came from the PSAR funds and $396,000 came from the
Betsy Lions, who manages the ESRP for the Department of Fish and
Wildlife, said most of that money this year will go toward removing
unnecessary bulkheads, replacing culverts that block salmon passage
and restoring tidal functions.
The salmon recovery money was approved Thursday by the Salmon
Recovery Funding Board. In a news release
yesterday, Gov. Jay Inslee stressed the economic value of
preserving the state’s salmon runs:
“These projects will increase salmon populations while giving a
boost to the economy. Salmon are important economically to
Washington state and these projects will provide construction jobs
and help countless numbers of Washington families and businesses,
including tackle shops, charter operators, restaurants and hotels,
that rely on the world-renowned Pacific salmon.”
David Troutt, chairman of the SRF Board and natural resources
director of the Nisqually Tribe, made this comment:
“Puget Sound Chinook are about one-third as abundant as they
were a century ago. As we have developed our urban and rural
landscapes, we’ve damaged many of the estuaries, floodplains and
rivers that salmon need to survive. These projects have been
selected as ones that will make big impacts on Puget Sound and
salmon recovery. Those two things go hand in hand. Puget Sound
needs healthy salmon, and salmon need a healthy Puget Sound.”
The 11 PSAR projects are outlined in a
document (PDF 106 kb) on the state Recreation and Conservation
Office’s website. By the way, projects in Hood Canal were held up
until October, as members of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council
continue discussions about priorities.
Opreys eat fish almost exclusively, which is why they nest near
water. Adults typically hover over the water before they drop like
a rock and dive feet first, grabbing fish with their sharp talons.
The young will begin exercising their wings before they take their
first flights and learn to fish.
OTHER LIVE OSPREYCAMS
Hog Island ospreycam is managed by Audubon on
Hog Island near Bremen, Maine. These ospreys laid their eggs about
the end of April.
ospreycam monitors a nest at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural
History in Brewster, Mass.
wildlife cam in the Prairie Pothole Region near Egeland, N.D.
The eggs were laid May 16 and should hatch at any time, but
long-term prospects for the ducklings are not good. Previous
research in the area has shown that the likelihood of surviving
predators and other threats is about 5 percent.
cam located between San Simeon and the Piedras Blancas Light
Station on the Pacific Coast of California. The webcam is a joint
project of Friends of the Elephant Seal and California State
shows salmon returning to Issaquah Hatchery, operated by WDFW. The
camera in the holding pool shows a still photo that refreshes every
It’s not often that we get to talk about a new environmental
group in the Puget Sound region. We have a lot of existing groups,
to be sure, but I can’t recall when the last one came into
Whether Sound Action is
actually a new group can be debated, since its core leaders come
from Preserve Our Islands, the organization that battled the gravel
mining operation on Maury Island. But I consider it a new group,
because Sound Action has a new, clearly defined mission, not
focused on a single development but on protecting shoreline
habitats throughout Puget Sound.
The group will begin by keeping its eye on hydraulic project
approvals issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The group’s audit of
290 past HPAs (PDF 3.3 mb) purports to show that adequate
restrictions were not imposed in many cases where shoreline
habitats and species needed to be protected.
Randi Thurston of WDFW disputes the report’s methods and
conclusions, as I mention in my story published in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
Those overall findings and statistics may make little difference
in the long run, however. More interesting will be the deficiencies
the group discovers as it goes about reviewing every permit issued
by WDFW — the express goal of Amy Carey, the group’s executive
“Our intent here isn’t to be adversarial,” she told me
yesterday. “We want to be supportive of DFW and help them fix the
problem. … Reasonably good laws have been on the books for decades,
but we have agencies that just don’t say no.”
When it comes to specific permits, it will be easier to discuss
what conditions exist at a specific site, what data are available
about the particular shoreline, what permit conditions are
mandatory and what conditions would be advisable to add some
measure of protection.
I can’t see how another set of eyes or even a differing opinion
can hurt if the goal is to protect the environment, and maybe this
effort will make a big difference in restoring Puget Sound to
health. Of course, if the goal is to approve shoreline developments
as quickly as possible, then regulations and oversight just get in
Here are the goals, as described by Sound Action:
In our new work, Sound Action will be reviewing each Puget
Sound-based HPA as it comes under the consideration of WDFW to
ensure that all applicable environmental regulations are
In the event that science-based information is missing or
overlooked by WDFW, we will present detailed documentation on
species and habitats present as well as impacts of the
If a permit is approved which does not contain appropriate
provisions or is approved in violation of state law, Sound Action
will pursue appeal and legal action.
Sound Action will expand its watchdog role to other regulatory
areas in Puget Sound, but its first task is to focus on the state
HPA program to make sure each permit does what the law requires and
that the program is functioning and providing habitat protection.
Not only is this required by law, it also supports the state
mandate to restore Puget Sound by 2020.
It appears that the findings of the report are substantially the
same as what I reported in a
Kitsap Sun story on May 6. If you haven’t read the story, I
think you will find all the comments interesting.
The next step will be for NOAA officials to issue
recommendations from the report. In light of the findings and the
uncertainty about the effects of reduced fishing, it seems likely
that more studies will be proposed rather than an immediate
adjustment to harvest.
I’ll continue to follow this story through the public review
process, which is planned for early next year. Updates and related
documents can be found on
The management plan for Puget Sound chinook fisheries will
remain in effect through next year, after which time it will need
to be updated in consultation between state and federal agencies.
Chinook are a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species
NOAA’s webpage, “Puget Sound Chinook Resource Management
At times, it seems a little voyeuristic to watch wild creatures
behaving naturally, unaware that eyes from all over the world may
be watching them via the Internet.
One of the most engaging critter cams is set up at a place
called Pete’s Pond, located in the Mashatu Game Reserve in eastern
Botswana. The pond lies at confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe
rivers in a region that combines dry savannah, riverine forests and
As I write this on Monday morning, several giraffes have come to
the waterhole, where it is late Monday afternoon. Last night
(Monday morning at the pond), I spotted a lone jackal wandering
near the water.
The viewing is enhanced significantly by volunteers from around
the world who take turns aiming the cameras and zooming in on
interesting activities taking place. I love the sounds of the pond
almost as much as the sights, but an ongoing clicking sound on the
audio this morning detracted from the natural sounds.
Late afternoon in Botswana (morning here) seems to be an active
time, but apparently different animals show up at the pond at all
times of the day and night, and I find it interesting to watch and
listen even when things seem completely serene.
I’ve mentioned other wildlife cams on this blog (See
Water Ways, March 3, 2011). Technical difficulties always seem
to be a factor in keeping these remote cameras in operation.
For the WildWatch
Cams managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
it does not help that the department has been through some massive
budget cuts. Staff efforts on these live videos has been reduced,
and some are not in operation. But a few seem to be working fine.
If you are aware of other good critter cams working at the
moment, feel free to pass them along.