Tag Archives: department of ecology

Sea Lions, Other Marine Mammals Discovering South Sound Anchovy Boom

A large suite of marine mammals has discovered Deep South Sound’s new bounty of anchovies, schools of which are now so numerous they’re routinely observed during regular aerial surveys.

For three months this past winter, WDFW biologist Steve Jeffries observed hundreds of California sea lions, as well as harbor seals, harbor porpoises and long-beaked common dolphins feeding on a massive pod of the skinny, silvery baitfish in Case Inlet north of Olympia.

IN THIS SCREEN SHOT OF AN IMAGE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S JUNE EYES OVER PUGET SOUND REPORT, MARINE MAMMALS INCLUDE CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS SWIM IN A SOUTH PUGET SOUND INLET WHERE THEY FEED ON HUGE SCHOOLS OF ANCHOVIES. (COURTESY D.O.E.)

Anchovy populations have boomed in these waters since 2015 and the Blob’s warm waters.

What’s more, the pinnipeds and cetaceans appeared to be teaming up on them.

Jeffries says he would watch them forage in a 3/4-mile-wide by 3-mile-long oval from Herron Island up to Hartstine Point south to McMicken Island.

From his boat he could only guess at what was going on under the glass-calm surface, but it’s possible that as the sea lions and dolphins slashed through the anchovies, the other marine mammals waited close by to pick off stunned fish, he says.

“You wouldn’t even know they were there for four to six minutes. Everybody would be down,” Jeffries recalls.

As the sea lions swim along on top, the surface boils with them, a video taken by a Department of Ecology aerial photographer shows.

To double check what they were feeding on, Jeffries says biologists “scooped poop” and jigged the depths, reconfirming anchovies were on the menu.

Sea lions have another tactic as well.

“It looked to us like they pushed the bait into the cove; basically, they cornered them,” he said of another instance in Carr Inlet.

That can also lead to die-offs as the sheer volume of fish can “create a localized, low-oxygen event,” which may have been to blame when a bunch turned up dead in May 2018 in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo.

In one South Sound beach seine net set, scientists caught a staggering 250,000 anchovies in 2017.

ANCHOVIES CAUGHT IN A BEACH SEINE IN OCTOBER 2017. (PHILLIP DIONNE, WDFW)

High tidal fluctuations can also strand the fish as the water recedes.

The feast on the salty fish ended in March when another marine mammal discovered the sated sea lions — 25 transient orcas that sailed through the Tacoma Narrows to Case Inlet.

Transients are the ones that nosh on sea lions and seals; weaker-jawed southern resident killer whales only eat softer salmon and steelhead primarily.

SO WHAT DOES THIS EXPLOSION of anchovies mean?

“I think it bodes well for salmon in the future,” says Jeffries. “Marine mammals are not the only ones that eat anchovies.”

He suggests that anglers also might switch to lures that look like the skinny, 3-inch-long baitfish.

“Put an anchovy-mimic fly on,” Jeffries says.

ANCHOVY HAVE OCCURRED INTERMITTENTLY IN PUGET SOUND OVER THE DECADES AND ARE NOW IN THE BOOM PART OF THEIR POPULATION CYCLE. (PHILLIP DIONNE, WDFW)

Pinnipeds are drawing the ire of fishermen as studies show that they’re intercepting outmigrating smolts, which has been highlighted in part by spring’s Survive the Sound online challenge, not to mention returning adult salmon and steelhead.

As WDFW’s point man on sea lions Jeffries finds himself in the thick of that debate, so I asked him if this all might lead to “prey switching.”

“If you were a sea lion, would you chase one (salmon or steelhead) smolt or a school?” he asked me in return.

Based on Jeffries’ counts of 150 to 250 sea lions in Case Inlet over a three-month period and the needs of the 350- to 700-pound animals to eat 5 to 7 percent of their body weight each day to sustain themselves, WDFW forage fish researcher Phillip Dionne came up with a back-of-the-envelope estimate that they consumed between 118 tons to 551 tons, with a midpoint of 283 tons, more than half a million pounds.

“… Assuming they were only eating anchovy, the sea lions may have eaten more biomass of anchovy in three months than our estimate of spawning biomass of herring (south of the Tacoma Narrows bridge) was for 2018 spawning season,” says Dionne.

Jeffries says anchovies represent “an alternate prey source” that’s in high abundance.

A paper published in the journal Deep Sea Research Part II in January notes that survival rates on acoustically tagged winter steelhead smolts leaving the nearby Nisqually River jumped from 6 to 38 percent between 2014 and 2016.

“Predation buffering by abundant anchovy is one hypothesis to explain this change,” it states.

THE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S LATEST EYES OVER PUGET SOUND REPORT SHOWS NUMEROUS SCHOOLS OF FISH IN MARINE AREA 13, LIKELY ANCHOVIES. (COURTESY D.O.E.)

ANCHOVIES HAVE BEEN INTERMITTENTLY ABUNDANT over the past century and a half, according to the paper, which looked at their historical fluctuations.

They apparently appeared in big numbers in the late 1890s — “they could be dipped up with a common water bucket” in a Port Townsend bay and were recorded as such in the late 1920s, late 1960s, mid-1980s, 2005, and again since 2015.

In the deeper past, “anchovy were the third most abundant fish in First Nations archaeological sites up to 3000 years old” in Burrard Inlet, on which Vancouver, B.C., sits.

It’s hard to say how long this latest anchovy boom will continue or how fast it may fade away and bust like in the past.

Though salmon and steelhead prefer cooler water, WDFW’s Dionne says that if warmer water sticks around, it could last longer than past ones.

While we yearn for clear-cut answers, that’s not the nature of Mother Nature.

“It’s difficult to say if this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing,” Dionne says. “California sea lions certainly love it.”

New WDFW Director Up For The Challenge Of Managing State’s Fish, Game, Future Path

If you were nervous to hear that some guy from the state Department of Ecology was taking the reins at WDFW – guilty as charged – you can breathe a bit easier.

Over the course of a 30-minute interview yesterday, I came away with the impression that Kelly Susewind has done a little fishing and hunting in Washington in his time and will likely give us and our causes a fair shake.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND HAS BEEN ON THE JOB FOR JUST OVER THREE WEEKS BUT IS A LIFELONG HUNTER. (WDFW)

“Basically, my life was hunting and fishing, and I tried to fit in everything else around them,” recalls the Aberdeen native about his younger days.

He took his share of upland and migratory birds then, but says his favorite game to hunt now is the big kind.

“Elk – I just love chasing elk,” he says.

A stint in Alaska put Dall sheep on his bucket list, while five or six years ago, a premo late-season Alta Game Management Unit mule deer permit taught him he didn’t always have to shoot the first big buck he saw.

“I saw four-points every day. I had never seen one without shooting it,” Susewind says.

And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I now know a collector who might be willing to make a deal for your Remington Model 31 …

On the fishing front, Grays Harbor, the Olympic Peninsula and Washington Coast provided plenty of opportunity.

“I’ve really enjoyed Westport, but also the rivers, the fall runs of salmon,” Susewind says.

And while last Saturday he told The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN that he’s “drifted away” from fishing over the years, he says he wants to get back into it.

AFTER GRADUATING FROM HIS LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE with an associate’s degree, Susewind (pronounced SOOS-uh-wind) went to Washington State University where he earned a bachelor’s in geological engineering.

He landed at the Department of Ecology in 1990, working his way through a variety of roles, most recently as the director of administrative services and environmental policy.

At 57, he decided it was time for a career change, one that might be a better fit with his interest in natural resource management – a “passion” fueled by all that time spent afield.

But also one that would put him on one of the hottest of hot seats in the state: The director’s chair at the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Everybody’s Pissed At You All The Damn Time For Something Or Other.

Which begs the question, Why in the hell would you even want the job, Kelly?!?!

“I’m still working on that answer. No, not really,” Susewind jokes. “I did pause, ‘Why would you jump into that blender?’”

There’s been a little bit of everything in WDFW’s KitchenAid of late, from hearty cupfuls of wolf management and court battles over furry fangers, to the everyday salt and pepper of salmon, steelhead and big game issues, to dashes of recent agency missteps and sex scandals.

Then there are looming budget battles in the legislature and questions about how the agency steadies its financial footing for the future.

“I see these challenges as something I want to be involved with,” says Susewind, who will be paid $165,000 a year to deal with them.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM TVW’S BROADCAST OF THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S AUG. 10 MEETING, SUSEWIND SHAKES HANDS WITH AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.  ASKED ABOUT HIS MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY, HE POINTED TO HIS ENGINEERING BACKGROUND AND SAID, “MY PERSONAL APPROACH … IS TO GATHER INFORMATION TO MAKE A RATIONALE, REASONABLE CHOICE.” (TVW)

WHEN FORMER HONCHO JIM UNSWORTH LEFT UNDER pressure earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Commission put out a help wanted ad that said WDFW’s next director would lead the agency through a “transformative” period.

Ultimately, the nine-member citizen oversight panel unanimously chose Susewind, a self-described “wildcard” among a slate of candidates who had decades of experience specific to the field.

But perhaps they wanted someone who could see the big picture a little better.

“We’re a small state with 7 million people and a couple million more coming. There’s a budget hole to patch. We also need to look a decade or two down the road,” Susewind says.

He feels – as do a number of senior agency staffers and outside advisers – that hunters and anglers have carried too much of the funding burden since the Great Recession 10 years ago, when WDFW’s General Fund-State ration got cut by almost half.

It has yet to be fully restored, but Susewind et al are hoping to reestablish a better balance between license revenue and general tax dollars beginning with the 2019-21 budget.

“I see our outdoors as defining us as a state,” he says. “We’re at a critical point now – it could go either way.”

Susewind says he wants WDFW to be “more relevant to Washingtonians.”

“Anglers and hunters get it. That’s 1 million people. But there are 6 million more out there. We’ve really got to reach those people. If we could get the state as excited about the resources as they are about the Seahawks, it would be a better place,” he says.

WITH FOREST FIRE SMOKE CHOKING THE SKIES OVER SEATTLE THIS WEEK, SUSEWIND SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO TEACH THE STATE’S NONHUNTERS AND -ANGLERS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AGENCY’S MISSION TO THE HEALTH OF THE STATE’S FISH, WILDLIFE AND RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He wants to strengthen existing partnership, and vows to be “pretty engaged” with stakeholders, tribes and others.

Commissioners lauded Susewind for meeting in his first days on the job with livestock producers over a previously proposed wolf collar data sharing plan change that would have switched things up halfway through the grazing season, but was ultimately put on pause by the citizen panel.

WDFW spokesman Bruce Botka says there’s been an “obvious sense of encouragement around headquarters” with the arrival of the new director.

And after talking with him, you can’t help but get a little excited about Susewind and his program … before the enormity of the job sobers you up again.

SUSEWIND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE NEEDS TO get up to speed fast on one of if not WDFW’s most important roles – fisheries management.

With Aug. 1 his first day, he will have a longer learning curve than his predecessor, who was thrust into the always contentious North of Falcon salmon season-setting process almost immediately. That year saw outrage over the closure of a key fishery, and talks the following year dragged out more than a month longer than usual and cost us opportunity.

Expect Susewind to work more collaboratively with the tribes than that, if his quote in the Port Townsend Leader is any indication: “It does no good to fight with each other.”

As for that other subject that can make Washington sportsmen a little rabid – wolves – they’re “on the landscape to stay,” Susewind says, echoing WDFW’s company line over the years.

“The only way to make that work is have them compatible with other uses on the land,” he adds quickly.

He says the species has to be managed and that the agency is engaged with the lawsuit from out-of-state groups challenging its hard won lethal removal protocol.

“We really need to have a postdelisting plan put together,” he notes too.

That’s easier said than done, if a recent wall full of Post-it Notes outlining the process is any indication, but it’s also a start and one hunters will want to watch closely.

IN ANOTHER TVW SCREENGRAB, STATE WOLF POLICY LEAD DONNY MARTORELLO TALKS ABOUT A CONCEPTUAL TIMELINE FOR A POSTDELISTING WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN AT A FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

“In the meanwhile, we need to strive to meet recovery goals,” Susewind adds.

We’re there in the state’s northeast and southeast corners, but many more are required throughout the Cascades to hit the current benchmarks.

SUSEWIND IS THE SECOND WDFW DIRECTOR FROM the harbor. Phil Anderson hails from Westport and resigned at the end of 2014 on his own terms after five years in the position and two decades at the agency.

“I’m looking for this job to be my job going into retirement,” Susewind says. “I hope I’ll be here eight, ten years.”

That of course depends on whether the Fish and Wildlife Commission will keep him around that long.

And that depends on what he can accomplish towards improving the state’s fishing and hunting opportunities; safeguarding its fish, wildlife and habitat; strengthening WDFW’s budgetary position; and working with its host of stakeholders.

One thing’s for sure: Susewind has motivation to try hard.

“I’ve got a brand new grandson,” he says. “I want him to fish and hunt like I did.”

Editor’s note: In addition to the above two hyperlinked articles, here are additional stories on new WDFW Director Kelly Susewind from the Spokane Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Aerial Pics Show Many Anchovy, Baitfish Schools In Parts Of Sound

My first thought was, holy moly, we’ve found the resident coho hot spots!

My second was, what the heck kind of schools of fish are those anyway?

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Numerous pods can be seen in aerial images of Puget Sound from last month.

One set of shots was taken in upper Henderson Bay, off Allen Point and the waters just south of the Purdy Spit, the other on either side of Keyport, on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The photos were included in the Department of Ecology’s latest Eyes Over Puget Sound report, a monthly check-in on environmental conditions in the inland sea.

It tracks water quality, freshwater inputs and coastal upwellings, comparing them across the years.

Also monitored are surface conditions, such as those bright-orange “tomato soup” algae blooms that are turning up, as well as marine debris, sediment plumes, jellyfish and the aforementioned schools of fish.

ANOTHER SCREENSHOT FROM EYES OVER PUGET SOUND SHOWS MORE SCHOOLS NEAR KEYPORT. (DOE)

My interest primarily revolved around the old fisherman’s refrain: coho love baitfish, so where you find bait, you find the salmon.

The question was, which prey species would be good to approximate in one’s lure selection?!

Were those herring? I asked James Losee, a WDFW South Sound fisheries biologist. There are several known spawning beaches down his way.

Sandlance? Surf smelt?

I’ve caught Puget Sound coho utterly stuffed with herring; on this year’s June 1 opener I somehow snagged a sandlance with my Buzz Bomb/Yo-Zuri squid set-up; and last year I landed a silver that was digesting a pile perch.

When Losee got back to me, it was with the name of a species I would not have guessed.

“The majority of these groups of fish are anchovies but are also composed of other forage (bait) fish,” he told me via email.

Anchovies? In Puget Sound?

Say what, James?!?

A SCHOOL OF ANCHOVIES. (OAR/NATIONAL UNDERSEA RESEARCH PROGRAM/WIKIMEDIA)

I consider myself a fairly close observer of the Northwest’s natural world and I initially did not recall ever hearing of the thin, filter-feeding plankton eaters in Pugetropolis, except as a pizza topping option when ordering from Pagliacci’s.

I do know that anchovies are an important ocean salmon feedstock up and down the West Coast, moving into the mouth of the Columbia River and other bays to spawn.

It turns out that at one time they were also “a predominant forage species” in what is the Lower 48’s largest estuary by water volume, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In December 2016, their Western Fisheries Research Center spotlighted the Whulge’s forage fish in a report that includes this 1894 quote from an anonymous observer:

“The anchovy come to Puget Sound in enormous quantities, and … every bay and inlet is crowded with them … I have known them to be in such masses at Port Hadlock that they could be dipped up with a common water bucket.”

As you may have guessed, anchovy abundance is believed to be way down from historic levels, as everything good here is.

But in recent years it’s actually been increasing — “dramatically,” says USGS.

Back in 2009, a longtime flyrodder posted he was noticing more.

In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

And last year, “thousands” turned up dead on a Hood Canal beach after a heat wave.

When I pulled up more Eyes Over Puget Sound monthly reports to see if schools showed up in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 late-spring aerials, the answer was:

Jellyfish, yes — and how;
Fish, not really, till this spring.

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc.  — but WDFW’s Losee says that “exciting things” are also happening here from “a prey resource point of view.”

“The fluctuating patterns of plankton association with pink salmon abundance and the increasing numbers of forage fish and ‘resident’ life histories like blackmouth and resident coho,” he clarified. “Still a lot to try and understand as patterns are complex but seeing schools of anchovies is a good start.”

I know that seeing them from the air is pretty cool too.

Atlantic Salmon Suck. So Does All The BS Around Them

I am not pro-Atlantic salmon. I am not pro-netpen. I am not pro-Cooke Aquaculture. But I am anti-bullshit.

My bullshitometer has been going off for six months now, but recently it just got too deep for me to tolerate any longer without comment.

ATLANTIC SALMON COVER THE DECK OF FISHING BOAT LAST AUGUST. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The Wild Fish Conservancy’s hysterical claim last week that Cooke’s escapees from the Cypress Island fish farm are ridden with an exotic virus strikes me as not unlike what I have heard repeatedly from the darkest recesses of the Northwest wolf world.

It goes along the lines of, Those non-native Canadian wolves USFWS brought down are infected with hydatid disease and rural people are in danger of catching it from all the wolf poo piles now lying around the woods!!!

WFC’s press release announcing this supposed disaster came with a raft of citations, but afterwards they appeared to be the equivalent of weblinks to wolf haters’ usual references from Russia and whatever.

They were systematically batted away by WDFW in a strident response noting that the virus, PRV, has been known to exist here since 1987, is found in salmon from Alaska south to Washington if not beyond, and is carried by netpen and free-swimming fish alike. The disease that WFC fretted it can cause isn’t found in our salmon and only some penned Atlantics. Nor is it fatal.

Not unlike most of the vitriol that the rabid anti-lupus set hurls from their keyboards, it appears that WFC’s claim was actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

It was fear-mongering by the Duvall-based organization, plain and simple, written to make it look as if the state agency in charge of monitoring fish disease didn’t know what the hell it was doing and released at a key moment during the legislative session to chivvy lawmakers to an even more rushed decision on the fate of salmon aquaculture in Washington.

WFC hasn’t apologized to WDFW, nor is it likely — in fact, this morning, they doubled down with a new press release.

Yet what is likely is they’ll probably be able to leverage the widespread initial coverage of their claims and get away with the less-than-damning subsequent reporting, positioning themselves well in this world for coming jihads.

Again, I want to stress that I am no friend of Cooke, netpens or Atlantics.

The company could grow salmon that taste like Cool Ranch Doritos and I’d still turn my nose up at the flesh — a friend who caught one last month on the Skykomish claimed “it was good,” but to this provincial Northwest Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead snob, that meat doesn’t cut.

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT COSTCO AND ULTIMATELY RETURNED TO THE COLD CASE AFTER A GOOD, SOLID SNEERING AT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Netpens pollute. If they were new housing developments, we’d require sewer hookups or better ways to treat all that fish waste rather than let it drift in the currents or settle on the bottom of an inland sea that doesn’t flush itself very well in places.

And I’m skeptical of Cooke’s claims it was going to upgrade the aging equipment that came over from Icicle Seafoods when it bought them out. Would they really have if they hadn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

But this whole thing has been an embarrassment, and I include everything from the Canadian company’s August-eclipse-tides excuse and its shellfish-and seaweed-covered nets that acted as underwater sails and caused the catastrophe to the theory the escapees were just going to starve and die to Hilary Franz’s surprise Sunday morning termination determination on the Cypress Island facility to the latest pseudoscience from WFC.

For the last month and a half state legislators have been tripping all over themselves trying to outlaw farming a species that realistically poses little to no threat to our native salmon stocks, yet couldn’t get the one bill that would have assured that — allowing only female Atlantics to be reared — out of committee.

I can’t be the only one wondering, what exactly is behind all this? What big game is being played here? Who stands to gain the most?

And worrying, when will all this negative energy be focused on something that I actually do care about?