Tag Archives: smolts

‘Rogue Pikeminnow Roundup’ Being Held On Famed Oregon River

Chinook are the prized species on the Rogue, but if you catch a pikeminnow and take a pic of it, you could win a prize.

ODFW’s Rogue Pikeminnow Roundup is on now through the end of the month on the famed Southern Oregon river.

AN OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE CONTEST AIMS TO REWARD ANGLERS FOR REMOVING NORTHERN PIKEMINNOWS FROM THE ROGUE RIVER TO REDUCE SMOLT PREDATION. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

To enter, send your pic to the agency’s Central Point office and you’ll be entered in a raffle, which features $20 gift cards from a local sporting goods and variety store in Medford, according to Mail Tribune outdoor reporter Mark Freeman.

Just as with the northern pikeminnow sport reward program on the Columbia and lower Snake, the idea is to reduce predation on young spring Chinook and other smolts as part of an ODFW management plan.

Freeman reports that anglers are encouraged to keep any they catch and turn them in at two locations in the Grants Pass area, Wildlife Images and Bradbury’s Guns-n-tackle, where they will be collected weekly and fed to wild critters undergoing rehabilitation.

For more details, see Freeman’s article.

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2,000 Upper North Fork Lewis Smolts Die In Mishap

“Human error” was unfortunately to blame when a steady stream of dead and dying smolts began drifting past Dan Moir and his wife early last month.

A JUNE 1 VIDEO TAKEN BY DAN MOIR SHOWS DOZENS OF DEAD OR DYING SALMON AND STEELHEAD SMOLTS FLOATING DOWN THE NORTH FORK LEWIS RIVER. (DAN MOIR)

They were fishing the North Fork Lewis just below Merwin Dam on June 1 when they noticed dozens upon dozens of the young fish float by their boat.

“They are kinda trying to wiggle, but I think they’re not going to make it,” Moir narrates in the 80-second video he took and shared with Northwest Sportsman magazine. “Some of them made it, but most of them, it looks like they’re dead.”

A tanker truck can be seen just upstream, and according to a report submitted by PacifiCorp to federal fishery overseers 11 days later, some 2,000 smolts died as a result of low oxygen levels in the vehicle’s holding tanks.

The rig was transporting 5,725 coho, spring Chinook and winter-run steelhead — part of an ongoing effort to reseed the upper North Fork — from the utility’s Floating Surface Collector at Swift Dam to a release site on the mainstem Lewis near Woodland.

According to a June 12 letter from PacifiCorp’s Mark Sturtevant, vice president of renewable resources, to National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Josh Ashline, the loss was attributed to oxygen volumes that weren’t adjusted by the driver as the tanker was being loaded with more fish.

Catching his mistake before leaving Swift, he checked on the fish twice en route. The first time they “looked fine,” according to the letter, but down the road at a weigh station pulloff, he “noticed that some of the fish had died and others were distressed.”

Once in cell phone service, he called a manager who advised him to drive to the Merwin Boat Ramp just below the dam, and there they “observed numerous fish mortalities and stressed fish” in the tank.

“(The manager) then directed the truck driver to release the fish into the river,” the report states.

Those were the smolts that the Moirs saw floating downstream.

A check of the rig’s oxygen and water aeration mechanism’s found it to be “functioning as designed.”

“It is something we feel terrible about and don’t want it to happen again,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Spencer Hall yesterday afternoon.

The report details proactive steps taken with drivers and loading protocols to prevent another mishap.

Hall describes it as the “only incident of this nature” since the utility began operating its $63 million surface collector on the uppermost of the three North Fork Lewis impoundments.

It’s part of a federal dam relicensing agreement to open up more than 100 miles of stream habitat in the watershed above Swift Reservoir.

Moir worried in the video that the dead and dying smolts had come from a hatchery release gone very wrong. While it’s likely that most of the fish’s parents did come from a production facility, these young fish were spawned in the wild.

All but 95 of the salmon and steelhead in the tanker truck that day were coho.

The truck driver and manager initially collected around 300 dead fish at the boat ramp, with PacifiCorp biologists recovering another 1,700 in the following days.

It’s primarily a potential setback for the utility’s bid to get a steady stream of 9,000 silvers back to the headwaters, according to a 2012 article in The Daily News that also noted the goal includes 2,000 springers and 1,500 winters.

In its 2018 annual report, PacifiCorp stated that last year it transported 7,060 adult late and early coho, 1,225 winter steelhead and 700 spring Chinook into Swift.

The utility also reported moving 55,336 smolts — 73 percent coho, 14 percent steelhead, 12 percent spring Chinook and 2 percent cutthroat trout — from the FSC to the lower Lewis last year.

Lewis springers have been identified as being among the most important feedstocks for struggling southern resident killer whales.

“While this event is extremely unfortunate, PacifiCorp is proud of the Lewis River Fish Passage Program and its continued success in operations and its contribution to establishing salmon and steelhead populations upstream of Swift Dam,” said Hall.

Editor’s note: The last name of Dan Moir was misspelled in the original version of this blog. Our apologies.

Strong Salmon Habitat Bill Would Also Declassify Popular Fish Species

Washington fishermen and others spoke yesterday in Olympia in support of an orca bill that primarily would increase salmon habitat protections, but concern was also expressed over one part that targets popular game fish.

Under House Bill 1579 and similar legislation introduced in the Senate, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish would be removed from the list of regulated species in Evergreen State waters.

A TRI-CITIES ANGLER HAD A T-SHIRT MADE OF COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE AND CHINOOK HE’S CAUGHT AND THAT HAVE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE. (JERRY HAN)

The idea came out of Governor Jay Inslee’s orca task force last year, and citing the plight of southern resident killer whales and the lack of Chinook as one of the limiting factors for the state’s J, K and L pods, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon called removing limits on the species a “common sense” solution.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” the Burien Democrat said during a public hearing before Rep. Brian Blake’s Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee.

The four nonnative warmwater species and Chinook primarily overlap in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and in much of the Snake, but also occur in other places such as Lake Washington and portions of warmer rivers such as the lower Yakima and Grande Ronde.

No data was referenced during the hearing, which was televised on TVW, but a 2017 paper by federal researchers found Chinook smolts to be the second largest component of the diets of shoreline-running Snake River smallies between April and September from 2013 to 2015. Idaho kings are among important SRKW feedstocks, according to federal and state biologists.

But the removal of bass, walleye and whiskerfish from game fish status worries some anglers, even as they support the rest of the bill.

Ryley Fee of Puget Sound Anglers said that restoring and protecting habitat is the best long-term hope for recovering salmon and that the bill had “big teeth” in that regard.

We must give the state agencies the effective tools and civil-regulated authority to dissuade anyone from illegally damaging the remaining environment that we have,” he said.

However, Fee asked lawmakers to modify the broad-brush declassification of the four species.

For instance, he suggested only removing the game fish designation in habitats where ocean-going salmon occur and “not in lakes where there are valuable recreational fishing opportunities.”

RYLEY FEE OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS SPEAKS BEFORE A STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON A BILL THAT WOULD ADD “BIG TEETH” TO SALMON HABITAT PROTECTIONS BUT WOULD ALSO DECLASSIFY FOUR FISH SPECIES POPULAR WITH ANGLERS. (TVW)

He proposed two options, listing them as “exotic species” in select watersheds to make the regs more clear, or retaining the game fish designation but liberalizing the bag limits where need be.

Currently in the Columbia and its tributaries below Chief Joe there are no minimum size or daily limits on walleye, bass or catfish, but elsewhere the species generally fall under statewide rules with certain size and bag restrictions.

The bill comes as walleye are increasingly popular to fish for in the big river, with anglers flocking from as far away as the species’ Upper Midwest home waters to try and land the next world record, while local fishermen hope to best John Grubenhoff’s 20-pounder.

And bugeyes, as they’re also known, were among the hits at last weekend’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup.

After the hearing, WDFW legislative liaison Raquel Crosier said that the agency was working on tweaks to the game fish designations.

“We want to make sure anglers are a part of the solution, so we are working with the sponsor to see if we can amend that section of the bill to liberalize bag limits without removing those species from the game fish list,” Crosier said. “Hearing lots of concerns from bass anglers and want to see those concerns addressed. The sponsor is eager to work on addressing these concerns.”

As for the rest of the bill, agency assistant director Jeff Davis expressed support, calling it “really darn important” for protecting SRKWs, salmon recovery investments and comanaged fisheries.

HB 1579 primarily addresses state hydraulic codes and enforcement and among those also speaking in favor were representatives from two tribal organizations and Jacques White of Long Live The Kings.

A SUMMARY OF HB 1579 BY NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE STAFF LAYS OUT THE CURRENT BILL’S IMPACTS ON GAME FISH SPECIES AND HYDRAULIC CODE ENFORCEMENT. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

White spoke to how armoring of Puget Sound’s shorelines has affected forage fish spawning areas and that 50 percent fewer Chinook smolts make it out of the inland sea than they once did.

It turns out that the forage fish are a critical element in the health of those juvenile Chinook,” he told lawmakers. “Juvenile Chinook populations 10 or 15 years ago relied heavily on herring in their diet and now they’re relying on crab larvae. Now, I like crab larvae better than I like herring, but apparently our salmon really want to see herring in the water column and in their diet.”

He said forage fish like herring also represent an alternate food source for harbor seals that are otherwise having to prey on Chinook.

“So this bill, I think, is a critical step in us protecting this important habitat,” he said.

However, a representative from the Association of Washington Businesses expressed concerns about the bill’s Hydraulic Project Approval provisions, while another from the Farm Bureau reminded lawmakers that it would affect operations across the state, not just in Puget Sound, and a third from the building industry association was opposed because it impacts how streamlined the process for putting in bulkheads currently is.

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.”

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.