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.
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.)
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.
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.