Category Archives: Fish

Old bulkhead to be removed on Ross Point, a major surf smelt beach

Ross Point, the most popular fishing spot for surf smelt in Kitsap County, will become a little more friendly to the little fish following the removal of a concrete bulkhead along the shore of Sinclair Inlet.

Brittany Gordon, habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, examines an old bulkhead about to be removed from Sinclair Inlet.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The bulkhead removal, scheduled to begin Aug. 12, will create more spawning area for surf smelt, an important food source for salmon and other fish. Smelt also are favored eating by some people, who typically catch them with dip nets.

In addition to increasing smelt habitat, the project will enhance the migration of young salmon along the southern shore of Sinclair Inlet. Like most bulkheads built in the tidal zone, this 84-foot-long structure forces juvenile salmon to swim into deeper water out from shore, making them more vulnerable to predators.

Getting rid of this bulkhead can’t be considered a major restoration project, yet it is one more step in improving the critical shoreline habitat for marine species, according to Brittany Gordon, habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As we walked along the shore near the bulkhead, Brittany told me that it isn’t clear why the bulkhead was built in the first place. It appears there might have been a house on the site at one time, given the ornamental and fruit trees nearby. The property is now owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which maintains a pullout for cars plus a primitive trail from Highway 166 (Bay Street).

Ross Point, Sinclair Inlet

Ross Point and nearby Ross Creek, as well as most of the Sinclair Inlet shoreline, were important to Native Americans before the arrival of settlers, according to Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe.

“I’m not sure if there was a winter village there,” he told me, “but it is one of the many places that people camped for a few days to a week at a time.”

The area was called Scusad, meaning “Star” in the Lushootseed language, he said, adding that the tribe supports the bulkhead removal.

Beginning in October, one can usually see cars parked along the roadway as fishers go down to catch their share of the smelt spawning on Ross Point, which is about 1.3 miles west of Port Orchard City Hall and about 2 miles east of Gorst. WDFW provides a fact sheet on smelt and smelt fishing (PDF 1.6 mb). A new regulation requires a license (saltwater or combination) when fishing for smelt in saltwater.

Access to the Ross Point beach will be closed from Aug. 12 to 19, provided the removal project goes according to schedule.

Surf smelt are an important food for salmon as well as being prized by some humans.
Photo: WDFW

Heavy equipment will be operated from the uphill side of the bulkhead without going down on the beach, Brittany said. Once the concrete structure is removed, experts will assess how the fill material behind it should be managed. If it is naturally clean dirt, it could be allowed to erode freely with the tides. Other options including removing some of the fill and overtopping with clean sediment.

The bulkhead removal is estimated to cost $40,000, including studies and design. The money comes from the ASARCO settlement fund — the result of compensation for natural resource damages from the Tacoma smelter. The money, managed by the Department of Ecology, was originally allocated to the Harper Estuary restoration in South Kitsap, but funding fell short for construction of a bridge that is still needed to complete that project.

The length of the concrete bulkhead is 60 feet parallel to the shore. At each end, the wall extends 12 feet back perpendicular to the shore, for a total of 84 feet. Around the ends, the dirt has been scoured away at high tide, creating a further threat to small salmon following the shoreline.

The location of the bulkhead along the high-tide line places it within the prime spawning area for surf smelt, which lay their eggs in gravel. See the WDFW document “Forage fishes and their critical habitat” (PDF 415 kb).

Like all bulkheads, the one at Ross Point also blocks natural shoreline erosion, which is how the beach obtains a continuing supply of sand and gravel. Those materials are essential for spawning by forage fish, including surf smelt and sand lance. The lack of sand and gravel results in a hardened substrate overlain by nothing but rocks that don’t wash away.

The bulkhead to be removed from Ross Point is 60 feet across the front with a 12-foot perpendicular section on each end. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The Ross Point project provides a chance for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to practice what it preaches.

“We try to be good stewards of the lands we own,” Brittany said. “It is a challenge because of our limited resources.”

Environmental agencies encourage shoreline property owners to remove bulkheads wherever feasible. For many properties in Puget Sound, bulkheads are not needed, because the rate of erosion is so slow. In some cases, spawning habitat can be restored to a more natural condition while limiting erosion by replacing a bulkhead with “soft shore” techniques, such as logs and large rocks along the upper edge of the beach.

I’ve talked to many shoreline property owners who, following restoration, are thrilled to have a naturally sloping beach where they previously confronted a sudden dropoff.

A program called Shore Friendly Kitsap can provide experts for free to help property owners assess the benefits and risks of bulkhead removal and offer grants up to $5,000 for design, permitting and construction. “Shore Friendly” services may be different in other counties, so check out “Resources in your area.”

For information about the Ross Point bulkhead removal, contact Fish and Wildlife officials:

  • Brittany Gordon, 360-620-3601, Brittany.Gordon@dfw.wa.gov, or
  • Doris Small, 360-902-2258, Doris.Small@dfw.wa.gov

Fisheries innovations credited with West Coast groundfish recovery

The dramatic recovery of many groundfish species along the West Coast is a testament to the innovation, cooperation and persistence by fisheries managers and fishermen alike under the landmark Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976.

Pacific whiting, sorted by size
Photo: National Marine Fisheries Service

One of the latest innovations, formally approved last month by the National Marine Fisheries Service, is “electronic monitoring,” which allows the use of video and other equipment in place of the human observers needed to ensure the accuracy of harvest reports.

The faster-then-expected recovery of depleted populations — including canary rockfish, bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, and Pacific Ocean perch — has led to dramatically increased harvest limits this year. NMFS estimates that increased fishing will add 900 jobs and $60 million in income this year alone. Recreational anglers are expected to go fishing an additional 219,000 times, mostly in California with some of those outings in Oregon and Washington, according to a news release.

Going from a federally declared disaster in 2000 to today’s recovery of most stocks was the result of a monumental change in fisheries management and fishing culture. One of the biggest changes was a shift to “catch shares,” in which each commercial fisherman receives a percentage of the allowable harvest each year, an issue I first wrote about a decade ago (Water Ways, Dec. 11, 2009).

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Amusing Monday: Watching wildlife around the world

You can learn a lot about the birds and the bees — not to mention the bears and a whole lot of other creatures — by watching a live telecast among hundreds of webcams fixed on wildlife in every corner of the globe.

Each location has its own story and its own history, but many existing webcams are coming under the support and networking of Explore.org, an educational program funded by the Annenberg Foundation, with special attention from Charles Annenberg Weingarten.

One live cam is situated near an osprey nest on Hog Island (first video), an educational nature camp in Maine that has been associated with Audubon since 1936. Today, Hog Island Audubon Camp is operated by Project Puffin, which is part of National Audubon Society’s Science Division.

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Ocean acidification gets attention in four bills passed by the U.S. House

The issue of ocean acidification gained some traction this week in the U.S. House of Representatives, where bipartisan support led to the approval of four bills designed to bring new ideas into the battle to save sea life from corrosive waters.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation would allow federal agencies to set up competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas for reducing ocean acidification, adapting to ongoing changes or solving difficult research problems. The bills also foster discussions about climate change by bringing more people to the table while providing increased attention to the deadly conditions that are developing along the coasts and in estuaries, such as Puget Sound.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

“We know that changing ocean chemistry threatens entire livelihoods and industries in our state, said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, in a press release. “There are generations of folks in our coastal communities who have worked in fishing and shellfish growing — but that’s endangered if we don’t maintain a healthy Pacific Ocean.”

Later in this blog post, I will reflect on other Kilmer-related issues, including the so-called Puget Sound Day on the Hill.

In a phone conversation, Rep. Kilmer told me that he was encouraged with the widespread support for a bill that he sponsored called the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019 (HR 1921), which passed the House on a 395-22 vote. The bill would allow federal agencies to sponsor competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas. Money would come out of existing funds that agencies use for related purposes. The bill was co-sponsored by Northwest Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, and Rep. Don Young, an Alaskan Republican. Five representatives from coastal areas in other parts of the country added their names to the bill.

“There is a legitimate problem, and people are beginning to see the impacts of the changing ocean chemistry,” Derek said. “This should a bipartisan issue.”

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Amusing Monday: Student artists share views of rare species

A student art contest focused on endangered species produced some impressive paintings and drawings this year for the 14th annual Endangered Species Day, which was celebrated this past Friday.

The contest, called Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest, is sponsored by the Endangered Species Coalition. It gives the young artists and their audience a chance to understand species at risk of extinction. Some choose plants and animal that are well known; others go for the obscure.

Texas blind salamander by ©Sam Hess
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

The grand prize this year was awarded to Sam Hess, a first grader from Portland, Ore. He depicted a Texas blind salamander, a rare cave-dwelling species native to just one place, the San Marcos Pool of the Edwards Aquifer in Hays County, Texas. The salamander, which grows to about 5 inches, features blood-red gills for breathing oxygen from the water.

The art contest, for students K-12, is sponsored by the Endangered Species Coalition, including more than 450 conservation, scientific, education, religious, recreation, business and community organizations.

“We owe it to this generation of children to pass down healthy ecosystems brimming with wildlife,” said Leda Huta, the coalition’s executive director, in a news release. “Every year, their artwork demonstrates how deeply they feel for nature and all of its wondrous creatures – large and small.”

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Ghost-net busters are entering a new era of hunting and removal

My mind is unable to grasp, in any meaningful way, how much death and destruction was caused by fishing nets that were lost and abandoned through the years.

Filmed in 2007, this KCTS-9 video describes the problem of ghost nets and a project that would eventually remove nearly 6,000 nets.

Nearly 6,000 of these so-called “ghost nets” have been pulled from the waters of Puget Sound over the past 17 years. Until removed, they keep on catching fish, crabs and many more animals to one degree or another.

We can support responsible fishing, but those of us who care about Puget Sound must never again allow lost nets to be forgotten, as if “out of sight, out of mind” ever worked for anyone.

The latest concern, as I reported last month in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, is that 200 or more ghost nets are still lurking at depths below 100 feet, which is the level considered safe to operate by divers with normal scuba gear. Remotely operated vehicles (unmanned submarines) are being developed to go after nets remaining in deep water, where they are killing crabs and many other deep-water species — including rockfish, some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

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Plastic bags and straws reined in with two bills passed by state Senate

Washington State Senate has tackled the problem of marine debris by approving one bill to ban the use of plastic grocery bags and a separate bill to discourage the use of plastic straws. Both bills have now moved over to the House of Representatives for possible concurrence.

Issues of waste, recycling and compostable materials have been the subject of much debate in the Legislature this year, with at least a dozen bills attempting to address these multiple problems.

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Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

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New ‘civil enforcement’ proposed for violations of hydraulic permits

Concerns about the endangered southern resident killer whales seems to be spurring legislative support for new enforcement tools that could be used to protect shoreline habitat.

Bills in both the state House and Senate would allow stop-work orders to be issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife when shoreline construction is done without permits or exceeds permit conditions. If passed, the law would require that Fish and Wildlife officials first work with contractors and property owners to achieve “voluntary compliance.”

Working with property owners is the key, stressed Jeff Davis, deputy director of Fish and Wildlife in charge of habitat protection. Under current law, property owners who commit serious permit violations are charged with criminal misdemeanors. That’s neither good for the agency nor for the property owner, who may end up battling each other in court, said Davis, who once worked as a Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist in Kitsap County.

The criminal approach may work well with “egregious violations of the law,” Davis told the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, “but it’s not an appropriate tool for the vast majority of noncompliance we see out there. We would rather work with people so they are in compliance and there aren’t impacts to fish.”

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Amusing Monday: NOAA’s top photos, videos and stories

A photograph of a tiny orange octopus was the most popular image last year among all the photographs posted to Instagram by NOAA Fisheries, the agency formally called the National Marine Fisheries Service. More than 2,000 people “liked” the picture and many more viewed it from among more than 150 top photographs posted last year by NOAA Fisheries’ Communications shop on its Instagram page.

A baby octopus found on an autonomous reef monitoring structure. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: James Morioka/NOAA

The octopus photo was taken during a NOAA expedition to assess the health of coral reefs in the Pacific Remote Islands, which had undergone a massive die-off in 2016 and 2017 caused by excessive warm water. The tiny octopus was discovered on an “autonomous reef monitoring structure” used to measure the recovery of ocean ecosystems. For details about the voyage, see NOAA’s story “Research Expedition to Assess Coral Reef Conditions and Recovery from Mass Bleaching.”

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