My Steelhead Smolt Did Not ‘Survive The Sound’

Blitz just got nixed.

Not the Seahawks mascot — the Seahawks mascot-themed wild Nisqually steelhead.

A day after my green-blue-and-silver-colored smolt set off down the river on its grand journey out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I got the bad news that Blitz had made it just 6.83 miles before going belly up.

AN UNFORTUNATELY FAMILIAR POSITION, AS IT TURNED OUT, DURING THE SHORT LIFE OF BLITZ THE WILD STEELHEAD SMOLT, MAY THE FISH GODS HAVE MERCY ON HIS (OR HER) SOUL. HERE HE (OR SHE) WAS BEING IMPLANTED WITH AN ACOUSTIC DEVICE TO TRACK ITS PROGRESS THROUGH PUGET SOUND, BUT NOT 6.83 MILES INTO ITS JOURNEY, A DIGITAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ACTUAL STEELHEAD MET ITS DEMISE IN THE NISQUALLY RIVER. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Let us pause now for a moment of silence.

They can’t tell me why my little Blitzy died, but the river sometimes known as the Nasty has high enough levels of PDBEs — the stuff that makes products more flame resistant — to mess with the health of steelhead, increasing their risk from predators.

That’s according to the organizers of Survive The Sound, an interactive challenge that on Monday launched four dozen digital fish replicating the swims of actual radio-tagged steelhead as part of an effort to draw attention to the plight of the state’s fish in Puget Sound waters.

“Your fish didn’t survive the Sound,” commiserated Lucas Hall at Long Live The Kings, which put together the campaign with help from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

BLITZ THE NISQUALLY STEELHEAD SMOLT. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Yesterday morning Hall said his email was blowing up after some of the game’s 1,100 participants learned their fish had succumbed on the first day of their 12-day journey from the Nisqually or Skokomish Rivers to the open ocean.

Blitz lived through day one, as would 47 percent of the smolts in reality, but on day two that percentage dropped to 42, sacking Blitz, among others.

The road won’t get any easier for those survivors, which have many challenges ahead, including hungry harbor seals.

As the faux smolts make their trip, LLTK programmed text boxes to talk about the perils beyond pinnipeds and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and which have grown as Pugetropolis has developed.

Yesterday’s informed me that where in 1917 we would have likely seen at least 325,000 to possibly as many 800,000 adult steelhead returning annually, today only 13,000 do, and the stock is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“The reality is, steelhead are dying, and that’s something to be mad about,” says Hall. “If people are mad, good.”

He said what happens to each fish is a computer-randomized outcome. A “ghost fish” will continue to make the journey, keeping me informed of other perils.

A MAP SHOWS THE PROGRESS MY SMOLT HAD MADE BEFORE MEETING ITS DOOM HALFWAY TO THE MOUTH OF THE NISQUALLY RIVER. (SURVIVE THE SOUND)

I got to wondering about just how many Puget Sound smolts might have made this annual spring journey 100 years ago, so I asked state fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull.

He gave me a range of possibilities, based on LLTK’s estimates and survival rates varying from a high of 20 percent down to today’s 2 percent. They suggest production of just 1.625 million smolts to produce 325,000 adults under the very best of conditions to 40,000,000 needed to yield 800,000 under the worst.

Barkdull says a 10 percent survival rate would “make sense” to him, so 3.25 million smolts producing 325,000 returners.

I’m cranky Blitzy got killed so early in his (or her) outmigration, but through Survive the Sound’s 48 smolts, I hope people outside of our fishing and hunting world also get pissed enough to learn more about how to get more young steelhead out and safely back as adults.

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