Tag Archives: salmon recovery

Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

The story of salmon recovery in Washington state is a mixture of good and bad news, according to the latest “State of the Salmon” report issued by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

It’s the usual story of congratulations for 20 years of salmon restoration and protection, along with a sobering reminder about how the growing human population in our region has systematically dismantled natural functions for nearly 150 years.

“We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The report reminds us that salmon are important to the culture of our region and to the ecosystem, which includes our cherished killer whales. It is, however, frustrating for everyone to see so little progress in the number of salmon returning to the streams, as reflected in this summary found in the report:

  • Getting worse: Puget Sound chinook, Upper Columbia River spring chinook
  • Not making progress: Upper Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River chum, Lower Columbia River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River spring chinook, Snake River spring and summer chinook
  • Showing signs of progress: Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Lake Ozette sockeye, Lower Columbia River steelhead, Snake River steelhead, Puget Sound steelhead
  • Approaching recovery goals: Hood Canal summer chum, Snake River fall chinook

It would be reassuring if we could know that our efforts in salmon recovery are making some real difference before we “double down on our efforts,” as the governor suggests. That’s why I spent considerable time trying to answer the question of whether we have turned the corner on habitat destruction in Puget Sound. Could we at least be improving the habitat faster than we are degrading it with new development? Check out “Are we making progress on salmon recovery” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

As I point out in the article, this question is not just a matter of counting salmon that return to the streams, because many factors are involved in salmon survival. Researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are investigating habitat conditions and the fate of young salmon before they reach saltwater, based on many ongoing studies. I’m hoping their upcoming findings can boost confidence that restoration work is on the right track.

Looking beyond the streams, I have reported on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which is asking important questions about what happens to young salmon after they leave the streams and head out to sea. You can read the four-part series called “Marine survival: New clues emerging in salmon deaths” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

The new “State of the Salmon” report describes, in a general way, the work that needs to be done, concluding that renewed efforts should be focused on:

  • Larger habitat restoration and protection projects
  • Better control of harmful development
  • Management and cleanup of stormwater
  • Addressing climate change
  • Restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat
  • Engaging communities
  • Reducing salmon predators and destructive invasive species, and
  • Integration of harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions

These general discussions, which are found in Section 9 of the executive summary to the “State of the Salmon” report, could be helpful if you haven’t heard any of this before. If you would like more details, however, I would direct you to these documents:

One of the most engaging sections of the new “State of the Salmon” report is the one containing “Salmon Recovery Stories.” If you read through all 24 of these stories (not necessarily in one sitting), you can confirm what you already know, and you are bound to learn some new things along the way. I know I did. The writing is tight and informative, while the pictures, videos are graphics complete the story-telling. The section is like a primer in salmon restoration.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to recover salmon,” Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, said in a news release. “We know what needs to be done, and we have the people in place to do the hard work. We just haven’t received the funding necessary to do what’s required of us.”

Summer chum are making a comeback in Hood Canal

Among all the gloomy stories about declining salmon runs, I am pleased to tell the positive story about the restoration of Hood Canal summer chum. See Sunday’s story in the Kitsap Sun.

For this population of salmon, biologists and political leaders have followed through on a carefully crafted recovery program. Since the late 1980s, researchers have studied these fish to an unusual degree — from the genetic makeup of the summer chum to their migratory patterns. As a result, they have been able to judge when things were going well or not so well.

Temporary hatcheries have been used to rebuild the summer chum runs in numerous Hood Canal streams. After boosting the numbers, most hatcheries have been discontinued. Now, the future of these fish will be determined by the quality of the habitat and changes in the natural system.

If you click over to the Sunday story, you will have access to a more in-depth series I wrote in 2003, before many of the recent successes could be reported.

I’m not working today, because I’ve been hit by some kind of bug that’s sapped my energy, so I won’t write more right now. I just wanted to make sure everyone was aware of my Sunday piece about the summer chum.

UPDATE (Tuesday, June 23): I’m back in action today and realized that I had not included the Web sites that will give you a ton of information about Hood Canal summer chum:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
National Marine Fisheries Service

Salmon on the Rhine: See any connections?

Swiss officials are delighted by a 36-inch Atlantic salmon that apparently migrated 600 miles up the Rhine River, well into the landlocked country of Switzerland, where the fish was caught by an amateur angler.

It was the first salmon seen that far up the Rhine in half a century, according to the English version of Spiegel International.

“In the 19th century, salmon were so plentiful in the Rhine that they were used to feed the poor,” the story states. “In the 1930s, salmon were still relatively plentiful in Basel, with around 120 of them caught each year. But neither tail nor scale of the animal has been seen since 1958.”

This incident reminds me of the ongoing, and somewhat desperate, effort in the Northwest to return sockeye salmon to Redfish Lake in Idaho. But that’s a Kitsap story for another day. (For a quick review without the Kitsap angle, there’s an update in The Idaho Statesman.)

As for the Rhine, a series of dams blocked the migration until fish ladders were installed. In 1986, a chemical spill had disastrous consequences for sea life in the river. Then in 1988, a project called Salmon 2000 set out to improve the river and bring salmon back to Switzerland.

On Sunday, 39-year-old Thomas Wanner was surprised at the fish he caught while dangling his line in the Birs River near Basel, not far from where its waters flows into the Rhine.

“It’s crazy, I can still hardly believe it,” Wanner told the local Basler Zeitung (newspaper).

As luck would have it, Olivier Schmidt, a hobby fisher who is a curator at Basel’s Natural History Museum, was nearby. Schmidt took a photo with his cell phone and sent the picture to Switzerland’s Environment Ministry to confirm the identify of the salmon.

Check out the map of the salmon’s apparent migration route and the obstacles it faced to reach Basel.

In December, Jochen Bolsche of Spiegel International reported on the difficulties faced by the group Salmon 2020 in getting salmon up the Rhine, particularly relating to troubles with dams in France. His story includes this note:

Switzerland, Europe’s environmental poster child, spends millions so that fish can pass through its own sections of the river and in addition pays for 5 percent of the stocked salmon in the entire 1,320 kilometer long Rhine watershed. Yet the Bern-based Federal Office for the Environment complains that Switzerland is, “along with Luxembourg, the only country that has not yet been able to celebrate the successful return of the salmon.”

If you are as fascinated as I am by the struggles to restore salmon in another country, check out this 2004 report called “Rhine Salmon 2020” (PDF 1 mb), which outlines the next phase of recovery.

(Interestingly, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has listed 2020 as the date to restore a “healthy Puget Sound.”)

The Salmon 2020 report declares the following “visions,” including the second one that we can hope is getting closer to reality:

1st vision: Several thousands of salmon in the Rhine
2nd vision: Undisrupted salmon migration as far as Basel
3rd vision: Salmon stocking is self-sustaining
4th vision: Wild salmon in the Rhine in 2020

One last item is the press release from the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine.