State managers are still waiting on reports to come in from all Washington hatcheries following this week’s big storm, but right now it sounds like facility damage more so than fish loss is the lead story.
“I think we fared OK. I know of only one potential fish loss, and that wouldn’t be a mortality or death. Other than that, some facility damage, and we’re waiting to evaluate that,” says WDFW’s Eric Kinne.
However, the redds of wild-spawning early-fall stocks such as pink salmon may have taken a beating. More on that in a moment.
Worst of the damage might have been on the Skykomish River, where the third highest flood in recorded history carried off parts of the Sunset Falls Fishway.
“There was quite a bit of stuff that came out and went downstream,” says Kinne.
At the peak of the flood, the Sky at the Gold Bar USGS gauge hit just over 100,000 cubic feet per second late on Nov. 17.
Kinne says the facility’s intake and attraction channel were damaged, with grated walkways and concrete supports swept away.
Needless to say, it’s now closed.
“The trap runs for about six months a year and traps and passes Chinook, coho, pinks and steelhead mostly,” Kinne says. “The impact from this damage will cause us to shut down the trap for the season a few weeks early and we will have six months to repair the damage.”
After fish are collected at the trap, tanker trucks give them a ride upstream around the 104-foot sloping waterfall and two other falls, allowing them to access 100 miles of habitat.
This year, the fishway collected over 6,500 coho, more than 17,000 pinks, nearly 250 wild summer steelhead and 380-plus whitefish.
Elsewhere on the Westside, Kinne says high water got into Hurd Creek Hatchery near Sequim, carrying off an unknown number of Elwha fall Chinook.
He says the weir across the Nemah River was damaged, gravel filled an intake channel on the Skookumchuck and downed trees could pose a problem at the Skamania Hatchery.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia said they had no immediate reports of damage to tribal hatcheries.
On the Eastside, high winds were the problem. At Naches Trout Hatchery, power to a pump was lost and rainbows had to be moved to Ringold Hatchery, Kinne says.
Winds hit 97 mph at Grant County PUD’s Priest Rapids Hatchery, which had some damage, he adds.
At the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, crews battled high waters and debris in a successful effort to save 1.2 million spring Chinook finglerlings.
But spokeswoman Julia Spinnix noted that wild-spawning salmon in Icicle Creek probably didn’t do so well.
Indeed, with three floods in just three weeks — flows hit 70,000 cfs on Halloween and 60,000 cfs Nov. 13 on the Sky — this year’s Blob-starved salmon just can’t get a break.
“Scour is bad for this brood year for species that have already spawned. Pinks especially, they took a beating,” says North Sound state district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull. “Chinook might have fared a bit better because they are bigger and dig deeper redds. I would expect they did a little better, but not great, especially in the Snohomish basin.”
“On the flip side, the coho adults can get anywhere they want, which is good since most haven’t spawned yet. Their juveniles will be distributed well across the accessible habitat, which increases survival. But last year’s coho parr just got their striped little anal fins kicked if they didn’t find a safe haven … The chum spawning habitat just got a thorough cleaning, and the adults can get into anything they want. The few that already spawned just took a terrible beating, survival wise, since the eggs wouldn’t have been all that water hardened, but everything after now will see improved survival, if another storm doesn’t blow in.”
At the moment, the weather forecast is pretty mellow, with even a chance of lowland snow next week.
But floods aren’t all bad news, if one takes the long view.
“Floods are the major feature forming the habitat used by salmonids of all types,” Barkdull says. “Floods are necessary to form the habitat features salmonids use. But it comes at a short-term cost in the form of reduced survival of eggs and parr that have to ride out such events. Salmonids have evolved to survive and thrive in a landscape that is ever changing. Where it gets dicey for them is when we reduce the rivers ability to react and change in the face of natural events, or we increase the frequency or magnitude of those events.”
On the latter front, there is evidence suggesting increasing fall and winter scour over the past six decades in Pugetropolis.