Tag Archives: nisqually river

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.

48 Steelhead Smolts Set To Go On Very Public, Perilous Journey Through Puget Sound

Think you could survive swimming out through Puget Sound? Think you could do it if you were a steelhead?

If so, you might be interested in signing up for a new interactive challenge debuting this spring that will allow the public to track smolts as they try to make the journey.

HOOD CANAL AND SKOKOMISH RIVER STEELHEAD HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING IN RECENT DECADES DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, BUT BIOLOGISTS ARE BEGINNING TO SEE THAT SMOLTS ARE HAVING A MORE DIFFICULT TIME THAN EXPECTED OUTMIGRATING. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

It will pit 48 actual acoustic-tag-bearing young winter-runs from the Nisqually and Skokomish Rivers against pollutants, harbor seals, long bridges, hungry birds and other challenges as the ESA-listed fish outmigrate through Hood Canal and the South and Central Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North Pacific.

If they even make it that far.

According to Long Live The Kings, which designed “Survive The Sound” with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., fewer than 20 percent of young steelhead make it out of Puget Sound these days.

The idea behind the experience is to bring that awareness to an audience beyond you, me and other steelheaders (we’ve written about it here and in the magazine), as well as raise money for research on our favorite species, and along the way have a little fun.

“Survive the Sound is a new way for people to interact with and learn about our Washington State fish,” Long Live The Kings posted in announcing the challenge. “Steelhead are magical: their behavior can signal deeper issues within the surrounding ecosystem, they are prized by chefs and anglers alike, and their presence is critical to sustaining tribal culture and treaty rights. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound steelhead population has declined dramatically over the past century —to less than 10% of its historic size— and they’re now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Today, there is serious concern that this iconic fish will slip into extinction.”

Here’s how to play:

Go to Survivethesound.org and pick one or more of the four dozen smolts that have been given all sorts of crazy names and avatars.

Northwest Sportsman is sponsoring Blitz, one of several Seahawks-themed steelhead, who’s looking for “a lot of support from the 12th man.” (Look for “Russell Wilswim” next year.)

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

Drag your pick(s) into the little box at left and then fill out the credit card billing info to make a $25 donation per smolt to Long Live The Kings, a venerable organization looking into declining salmon and steelhead stocks in the Salish Sea and what can be done to support fisheries for them here.

After submitting the info, you’ll get a confirmation email and a link to a page that will allow you to see your smolt’s pace and distance covered, plus where it is on a map.

Blitz — a Nisqually smolt — hasn’t gone Beast Mode yet, but starting May 8 he and the rest of the young steelhead will begin their journey.

OTHER AVATARS INCLUDE A TASTY SWEDISH FISH, AND A NOT-SO-HEALTHY LOOKING SALMON ELLA. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Their tags will be read (or not if they’re eaten or otherwise die) by sonar stations at key places in the saltwater.

Along with progress updates, you’ll also get briefings on problems facing Puget Sound steelhead, which were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007.

Then, NMFS said the “principal” reason was loss of habitat, but also “noted that predation by marine mammals (principally seals and sea lions) and birds may be of concern in some local areas experiencing dwindling steelhead run sizes.”

That’s become more and more of a concern, what with high numbers of pinnipeds and how many young Chinook they may be eating, but there are also suggestions that steelhead smolts just can’t get past the Hood Canal Bridge and that also makes them easy pickin’s.

To, er, hook lots of people into playing Survive The Sound, organizers have a variety of prize categories, including biggest “school” and fastest fish, and if you sign up before April 5, your name will go into a raffle for a stay at Alderbrook Resort, near the hook of Hood Canal.

It will be interesting to see if Blitz gets sacked himself (or herself for all I know) or rushes past the pinnipeds and cormorants and is able to reach the ocean’s feeding grounds.

It will be even more interesting to know if this vehicle delivers the plight of Pugetropolis’s steelhead to the masses, getting more people on board to do something about it.

Editor’s note, March 30, 2017, 2:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this blog mistakenly reported that the steelhead smolts had been radio-tagged. The fish in this research bear acoustic tags, according to Long Live The Kings.