Tag Archives: Smelt fishing

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