Tag Archives: salmon recovery

Study Finds Side Channel Restoration One Key For Puget Sound Chinook Recovery

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Teasing apart the elements of Puget Sound rivers that matter most to fish, researchers have found that one of the best ways to recover threatened Chinook salmon may be to restore the winding side channels that once gave young fish essential rearing habitat and refuge from high winter flows.

Models were based on fine-scale river mapping and tracking salmon populations across Puget Sound. They showed that habitat restoration projects in the Cedar River southeast of Seattle could boost the number of young Chinook salmon produced by each spawning adult by adding side channel habitat.

BRAIDS OF THE SAUK RIVER BETWEEN DARRINGTON AND ROCKPORT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Additional side channels and other habitat improvements also appear to help stabilize salmon numbers, making them less vulnerable to flooding or other extreme conditions that may come more often with climate change.

“The risk of those extreme catastrophes is lessened because the water can spread out and slow down, with less impact to the fish,” said Correigh Greene, a research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and coauthor of the The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new research published last week in PLOS ONE. The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Cramer Fish Sciences, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used aerial photographs to chart and measure each twist and turn of 10 of Puget Sound’s largest rivers, from the Skagit to the Dungeness, and relate them to Chinook salmon populations.

Restoring Habitat Key To Salmon Recovery

The findings also provide important confirmation that restoring Chinook salmon habitat, a key recovery strategy for Puget Sound populations, can deliver real improvements in their survival and productivity.

“We now know that there is a detectable response to habitat restoration that can inform our decisions about how to pursue recovery and dedicate funding where it will do the most good for fish,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Northern Puget Sound Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, who helps carry out recovery plans for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon.

River Complexity Leads to Better Salmon Habitat

Biologists view the braided networks of side channels that are common in natural rivers in the Northwest as evidence of a river’s “complexity,” which also includes deep pools, outcrops, and log jams, all of which provide important habitat for juvenile and adult fish. Generally, the more complexity a river displays, the better habitat it will provide for fish, because they can more easily find refuge and rearing habitat when they need it.

Many Puget Sound rivers have suffered reduced complexity through years of development as dikes, roads, and riprap have hemmed them into straight, narrow channels with far less room. That leaves less refuge for juvenile fish to grow before migrating into the Salish Sea.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

Of all the factors that contribute to a river’s complexity, the researchers found that side channels and the number of junctions among them, and to a lesser extent woody material such as log jams, are most important to Chinook salmon. More complex rivers are generally slower than narrow rivers with impervious banks, so the juvenile salmon aren’t swept downstream faster than they’re ready to go. The more habitat complexity, the researchers found, the higher the productivity of Chinook salmon populations.

Models Can Help Plan and Track Habitat Restoration

“Once we link habitat metrics to meaningful productivity metrics, we can start to answer some of the big questions, such as, “How much restoration achieves recovery, and what qualities do you most want to focus on,” said Jason Hall, a senior scientist at Cramer Fish Sciences and lead author of the new study. He noted that the answers may differ from species to species and river to river. Habitat complexity also appeared to reduce fluctuations in salmon numbers from year to year, “supporting the idea that habitat complexity buffers populations from annual variation in environmental conditions,” the scientists wrote.

Habitat protection and restoration along the Cedar River, which provides much of Seattle’s municipal water, is an example of the kind of restoration that can help recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon in the long run, Greene said. Understanding the habitat qualities most important to fish helps estimate “how much we have to do to move the needle over the whole life cycle.” The same mapping and modeling approach that was demonstrated by the research can help plan and track the benefits of other restoration occurring in estuaries and along Puget Sound’s shorelines, the authors said.

IN A RELATED STORY OUT TODAY, SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES SAYS THAT A  PAIR OF CHINOOK WERE SPOTTED IN A SECTION OF THORNTON CREEK THAT WAS RESTORED IN 2014 TO BE BETTER SPAWNING HABITAT AND THAT THE TWO WERE THE FIRST OF THEIR SPECIES SEEN IN THE URBAN STREAM IN EIGHT YEARS. (SPU)

“If you have funding for restoration, where can you spend it to deliver the best benefit for fish?” Babcock asked. “We’re finally starting to have better answers to that question.”

My Pitch For The Fish: Turn Tukwila Soccer Fields Into Side Channels For Salmonids

With the World Cup coming up in June, it might not be the best time for me to tell Tukwila’s aspiring Mo Salahs, Kevin De Bruynes and Neymars this:

I want to rip out your four soccer fields and put in a big huge giant side channel for imperiled salmon and steelhead instead.

TARPS COVER PORTIONS OF FOUR SOCCER FIELDS AT STARFIRE, ALONG THE GREEN RIVER TRAIL IN TUKWILA SOUTH OF SEATTLE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Look, kids, I love the beautiful game — what an MLS debut for Ibra! — and really do want you to be on our 2022 team.

USA! USA! USA!

But those 6, 7, 8, 9 acres right alongside the lower Green have a higher and better purpose than close-cropped grass, limed lines and practicing Olivier Giroud-style scorpion goals.

(OK, the third is negotiable.)

BEHIND A SCREEN OF INVASIVE BLACKBERRIES, THE GREEN RIVER COURSES OVER A SET OF ROCKS, RARE IN ITS LOWER END. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They could instead be a network of thickly wooded, winding, tidally influenced habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook and winter- and summer-run steelhead, as well as coho, to rear in, boosting fish capacity in the highly developed King County river system.

Similar projects have gone in downstream at Codiga Park, Cecil Moses Memorial Park, the Turning Basin, Highway 509 Wetlands and Kellogg Island, and well as upstream.

One, a 700-foot-long constructed reach known as Riverview between Kent and Auburn, held way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE SOCCER FIELDS. THE GREEN RIVER IS JUST TO THE LEFT OF THE PAVED TRAIL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

So why not return a portion of the city’s (and formerly the county’s) Fort Dent Park to its original purpose lo these many decades ago?

“The area historically had a bunch of side channel habitats and wetland slough-type areas that were great for rearing, but most of that habitat has been filled in and developed and the river has largely been diked throughout that area,” notes one fisheries biologist.

JUST BEHIND A STARFIRE PRACTICE FIELD, A MONUMENT MARKS WHERE A STEAMSHIP USED TO DOCK IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE 1800S, WHEN LAKE WASHINGTON DRAINED OUT THROUGH THE BLACK RIVER INTO THE GREEN/DUWAMISH, WHEN THE SYSTEM WAS ALSO STILL CONNECTED TO MT. RAINIER’S WHITE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

While the region’s Powers That Be continue with their offsides thinking that they can somehow recover ESA stocks by restricting our fisheries into oblivion, we can raise all the yellow and red cards we want on gillnetting and pinnipeds — along with stormwater runoff and pollution — because they do have an verifiable impacts.

But honestly, the best way to help our favorite fish out is to increase the amount of habitat available to them.

That was the point of a recent stellar educational simulation posted on Tidal Exchange, and it’s what I hear over and over and over from biologists: Quit festering so much about fishery impacts on adult fish and focus instead on adding rearing space for the young’ns.

So, with that idea in mind early one afternoon last week, I made the rounds of the fußball fields next to the Seattle Sounders practice facilities.

Walking along the paved Green River Trail as warm sunlight poured over me, I imagined an army’s worth of dump trucks hauling off millions of cubic feet of topsoil (with a load or two of the rich fill headed for my yard).

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE FIELDS, WITH THE GREEN RIVER TO THE RIGHT OF THE PATH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Pausing next to a bench, I saw earthmovers sculpting subtidal flats and fingered drainages, as well as berms and islands down where a couple dogs played fetch with their owners, and moving the dike from next to the river to over where cars parked.

THE GREEN FLOWS UNDER THE STARFIRE WAY BRIDGE, NEAR THE UPSTREAM END OF THE SOCCER FIELDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

From the Starfire Way bridge, I mulled where I’d put in a diversion from the river to flood the former fields and later, standing down by the Fort Dent landing monument, I considered where I’d put an outlet.

GOALS STAND ON A SLIGHT RISE ABOVE THE FIELDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With the scent of cottonwood sap in my nostrils, I envisioned fishermen joining soccer squads and other volunteers to participate in annual mass plantings of native plants, shrubs and trees.

I saw a forest growing up and shading the channels, providing perches for kingfishers, and boardwalk pathways and informational displays on how the project was helping young kings, silvers and chromers.

FISH HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT IN SKAGIT COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And then I really actually did see Clint Dempsey in the Starfire parking lot and I was like OMG, it’s Deuce, right there! OK, just be cool, Walgamott, don’t run over for a selfie and to hassle him with your hairbrained idea, breathe through your nose, man.

Ahem, I will admit that this project would face some challenges.

It pits little kickers against little finners, and sadly, I don’t know that Pugetropolites really have the stomach for helping the latter group out like they should.

There’s convincing the Tukwila Parks & Rec Department to get on board and mitigating the four lost playfields (those nice, level though rather noisy grassy strips just over the hill in SeaTac are right out).

The required permitting and buy-in from the city, county, flood control district, state and Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies.

A MOWER CLIPS THE GRASS ON A PRACTICE FIELD BEHIND A SCREEN AT STARFIRE. THE SOUNDERS’ FACILITIES ARE OUTSIDE THE EDITOR’S FISH HABITAT PROJECT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And the price tag. The morning of my walk I’d picked up a MegaMillions ticket for Friday’s half-billion-dollar drawing, but I only got one number, so NMFS Section 6 and Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants will be key and the project would have to compete well with others to score money from either of those two heavy-lift sources.

So, yeah, my project is probably a long shot for salmon and steelhead, but sometimes you gotta think big — kinda like Wayne Rooney did from his own half last November.

True Confessions Of An Armchair Fisheries Biologist

I earned my nickname The Butcher of Astoria, of Yaquina Bay, of Toliva Shoals and a thousand other haulouts while ridding them and the rest of the West Coast of sea lions and harbor seals, and then I cleared out all those loser wannabe sharks, the orcas, to Seaworld.

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SPRING CHINOOK. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I got in my submarine, the U-206, and torpedoed the entire North Pacific commercial salmon fleet (and shelled Ballard and rammed the F/V Northwestern for good measure), came back on shore and stole all of the tribes’ gillnets — take that, Judge Boldt, you old fart! — then confiscated every last stinking hoochie, Kingfisher spoon, and downrigger from the sporties (rubbed all that gear down in day-old banana peels, I did, to ensure they never caught another fish).

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

WILD CHINOOK. (CYRIL MICHEL, NMFS, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

You can imagine my rage: Here I’d eliminated predation on and harvest of Chinook headed back to my beloved “Mulgy,” and yet the Simulguamish River’s salmon did not respond for me whatsoever.

The numbers were flatlined, year after decade after century after millennium after glacial epoch.

Not a single sign of recovery from my admittedly heavy-handed management tactics.

“Well, at least you tried,” a friend texted me as I rode the bus to work this morning.

Yes, indeed, I had.

A MODEL SHOWS THAT DESPITE REPRESSIVE MANAGEMENT TACTICS — ENDING ALL SALMON FISHING AND ELIMINATING MARINE PREDATION — THE BLOGGER WAS UNABLE TO RECOVER THE SIMULGUAMISH RIVER’S CHINOOK AFTER 400 GENERATIONS. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)

I was messing around with an intriguing interactive game posted yesterday on Tidal Exchange, a sportfishing advocacy blog, and the only other option I had left was to try and increase the river’s carrying capacity — that is, how many young Chinook could actually rear in it.

A YOUNG CHINOOK NEAR WOODY DEBRIS. (NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I grated my teeth — damn you all to hell, “Habitat is the key” bumper sticker! — and went to work.

I ripped out dikes, flooded unused and economically unviable fields, reconnected old oxbows, put in culverts big enough for a big ol’ bull killer whale to squeeze through, parachuted in beavers, put in rain gardens and special parking lot asphalt to collect vehicle drippings in and around the burgs of Arlingwood, Stanton and Ono, dropped trees into the river — and made sure fewer of ’em were tipped over on the hillsides too — and otherwise let the Mulgy be the Mulgy.

And you know what happened?

Well, I began to see more Chinook in the Simulguamish. And more and more and more!

Pretty soon I’d exceeded the river’s recovery target, and as its carrying capacity increased even more over time, I decided we might be able to fish on the salmon a little and, yes, take my foot off the throats of marine mammals — just a hair anyway.

There were some stomach-turning year-to-year lurches in fish numbers, but I managed to keep Chinook above the Mulgy’s recovery goal.

AN ADULT MALE FALL CHINOOK PREPARES TO SPAWN. (JOHN R. MCMILLAN, NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

Looking back on it, I admit I caused some rather astonishing collateral damage in recovering the river’s Chinook.

I destroyed entire fishing industries and tribal cultures, as well as bankrupted the Department of Fish and Wildlife. I also face a prison term of approximately 100,000 years and fines in the billions of dollars for various infractions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, federal treaties — you name it.

And needless to say our magazine lost a few advertisers, plus Lorraine Loomis doesn’t send me Christmas cards anymore.

So I hit reset on Tidal Exchange’s simulation, left the fishing rate at the default 25 percent, the marine predation rate at the default 24 percent, and just focused on working on the Simulguamish’s habitat instead.

Worked a helluva lot better the whole way around.

AN INTERACTIVE GAME ON TIDALEXCHANGE.COM ALLOWS ANYONE TO VARY FISHING PRESSURE, MARINE PREDATION AND HABITAT CAPACITY RATES TO TRY AND RECOVER SIMULGUAMISH RIVER CHINOOK, A METAPHOR FOR REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS WITH THE SALMON STOCK ON THE HABITAT-CONSTRAINED STILLAGUAMISH RIVER. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)