Category Archives: fish

Connecting the Fraser salmon virus dots

Are the Fraser chinook that southern resident killer whales love to eat already infected by the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAV) just detected in 2 Fraser sockeye smolts?  Could this virus — not salmon leukemia — be what caused the the mortality-related genomic signature in Fraser sockeye reported earlier this year?

Remember that DFO scientist Miller-Saunders told Scientific American last spring that “there is some indication that the signature may be in Chinook and coho” salmon, too.  To what data was she referring, I wonder?  Was it derived from out-migrating smolts or returning adults, wild or hatchery fish?  Was she referring to Fraser Chinook and coho, or some other stocks?

In contemplating how ISAV may affect the Northeast Pacific ecosystem, the Final Recovery Plan for U.S. Atlantic Salmon (Gulf of Maine DSP, 2005) is truly frightening reading.  The section on ISAV (appended below) suggests: that the virus can kill 3-50% of each production cycle and can infect non-Atlantic salmon (coho salmon in Chilean pens), as well as non-salmonids like rainbow trout (cultured) and gadids (potentially our pollack and cod species!); that rainbow and brown trout can be asymptomatic vectors; and that wild Atlantic salmon have been infected.  The plan also notes that “sea lice have been shown to retain the ISA virus after feeding on infected salmon.”  That’s pretty troubling when juxtaposed with recent research on lice infestation of wild B.C. salmon

The outlook for the Salish Sea ecosystem (and particularly it’s endangered salmon stocks) looks even dimmer after perusing an article about experimental infection of herring with ISAV.  The take home message (from the abstract): “It is concluded that the ISA virus is able to propagate in herring and that the herring may be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”

It’s going to be fascinating (and probably depressing) to see whether a pandemic develops.  If it does, the long-term outlook for southern resident killer whales may be bleak, especially if DFO fails to act at least as quickly and rigorously with the salmon farming industry as the U.S. agencies did when attempting to control the initial outbreaks in Maine.

Excerpt from the Final Recovery Plan for U.S. Atlantic Salmon (Gulf of Maine DSP, 2005) starting on page 1-60 —

ISA is a contagious and untreatable viral disease that affects a fish’s kidneys and circulatory system with a variable mortality rate from 3% to more than 50% in one production cycle (USDA APHIS 2001). Atlantic salmon infected with clinical ISA are anemic, typically lethargic, swim near the surface and fail to swim upright. Experimental studies have demonstrated that the virus is transmissible through mucous, feces and blood of infected/diseased fishes (Nylund et al., 1994). This results in cultured fishes being particularly susceptible to exposure to ISAV by infected cagemates. Studies in Norway indicate that penned salmon populations held within five kilometers (km) of each other or the discharge of slaughter wastes are at greatest risk of contracting ISA (Jarp and Karlsen, 1997). There is no evidence that the virus spreads vertically (from parents to offspring) although poor disinfection of fertilized eggs may allow for external transfer of the virus. Poor culture practices in fish hatcheries and net-pens in an Atlantic salmon watershed could increase the risk of a wild population’s exposure to disease.

ISA is the most significant known disease threat to the DPS. The threat of ISA to the recovery of the DPS is both direct, through infection of wild fish, and indirect by compromising hatchery supplementation of the DPS. The infection of emigrating smolts or adults passing near infected net-pens may cause mortality. This risk is greatest in those rivers whose approaches are nearest the highest concentration of net-pens, specifically the Dennys, East Machias and Machias. Other DPS river populations may also be at risk if they migrate through areas where aquaculture facilities are concentrated.

ISA has the potential to compromise CBNFH and the GLNFH if ISA-infected fish are inadvertently brought into one of these facilities. For example, an ISA-infected salmon brought into CBNFH for broodstock purposes could potentially infect other fish at the facility. In fact in 2001, a Penobscot sea run salmon brought to CBNFH for use as broodstock initially tested positive for ISA. Subsequent tests were negative and no additional fish were found to be infected. Outbreaks of ISA in freshwater hatcheries have not been reported from major salmon producing countries that have experienced ISA outbreaks. Still the potential for juveniles that have never entered salt water to be carriers of the virus is currently unknown.

ISA has already had an impact on Atlantic salmon recovery efforts. An adult stocking experiment (see page 4-69) was not fully optimized due to ISA concerns. These concerns resulted in more than 50% of the net-pen reared broodstock being destroyed. This decision was made because fish health experts felt the close proximity of these fish to fish infected with the ISA virus (ISAV) in commercial aquaculture pens was a substantial risk to wild populations. This concern was later affirmed by the outbreak of ISA in marine pens in the Cobscook Bay region (see page 1-82).

ISA was first reported in Norway in 1984 (Thorud and Djupvik 1988). In more recent years, cases of the disease have been reported from eastern Canada (Mullins et al. 1998), Scotland (Rodger et al. 1998), the Faroe Islands (OIE 2000), and in Cobscook Bay, Maine (Bouchard et al. 2001). The virus has also been associated with disease in cultured coho salmon in Chile (Kibenge et al. 2001) and very recently has been detected in cultured rainbow trout in Ireland.

The ISA virus has been known to cause disease in cultured fishes, principally in Atlantic salmon, although other species may act as carriers of the virus without signs of the disease. Species other than Atlantic salmon can become infected with ISAV and must be considered in the epizootiology of outbreaks and management of ISA. In laboratory studies, brown trout (Salmo trutta) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) have been shown to be asymptomatic carriers of the ISA virus that can transmit the virus to salmon by co-habitation (Nylund and Jakobsen 1995; Nylund et al. 1995; Nylund et al. 1997). Escaped or caged rainbow trout may pose a threat to wild Atlantic salmon by serving as a reservoir of ISAV.

Recent studies in the United States and Canada indicate non-salmonids (i.e., gadids) can become infected with ISAV. Whether these species act as reservoirs in wild populations remains to be determined. Assays of non-salmonid fishes taken from pens containing ISA-diseased cultured Atlantic salmon resulted in isolation of virus from tissues of asymptomatic cod (MacLean et al. 2003).

Results of recent studies conducted in Scotland and Canada indicate that ISAV exists at a low level in wild salmonids. ISAV has been found in Atlantic salmon aquaculture escapees (Olivier 2002; Raynard et al. 2001). There has been one case of wild salmon exhibiting ISA in Canada, but these wild fish were confined in a trapping facility with infected salmon of aquaculture origin.

At the time of the listing of the DPS as endangered in December 2000 (65 FR 69459), some U.S. net-pen sites in Cobscook Bay, the location of Maine’s greatest concentration of salmon aquaculture pens, were within five km of Canada’s ISA positive sites, raising concerns about the potential for this disease to infect U.S. aquaculture and wild salmon stocks. Subsequent to the listing of the Gulf of Maine DPS of Atlantic salmon as endangered, the disease spread to U.S. aquaculture sites within Cobscook Bay. The first known case of ISA in Maine occurred in Cobscook Bay at a salmon aquaculture net-pen site. The infection probably occurred in 2000 and was confirmed in February 2001. By September 2001, 50% of the net-pen sites in Cobscook Bay were ISAV-infected or diseased.

In January 2002, in an effort to control a catastrophic outbreak of ISA in Cobscook Bay, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS), ordered the destruction of an estimated 1.5 million cultured salmon in the Bay. The industry was required to remove all fish from the Bay and a fallowing period, between sixty and ninety days, was imposed for the entire Bay in an attempt to eradicate the disease. The industry was also required to remove, clean and disinfect all the associated net-pens, barges and equipment at all the farms. The January 2002 order followed the voluntary removal by the aquaculture industry of nearly one million ISA- infected or exposed fish. In March 2002, ISA was also detected in an aquaculture facility in Passamaquoddy Bay. In response, the DMR issued an eradication order for the approximately 140,000 fish at the site.
In response to the ISA outbreak in Cobscook Bay, Maine DMR implemented new fish health regulations. The new DMR rules include mandatory surveillance and reporting of all test results for ISAV in salmon culture facilities. Sites with confirmed presence of ISAV are automatically subject to a remedial action plan developed by the DMR in cooperation with the salmon growing industry. Under the new regulations, the movement of vessels and equipment is also restricted. Prior to the rule changes, surveillance was not mandatory and reporting was only required when a case of the disease was confirmed.

The new rules require monthly sampling for all active finfish facilities in Cobscook Bay and quarterly testing for aquaculture facilities elsewhere in Maine. Reporting of results is mandatory and reports are provided to DMR. The DMR can require monthly testing for finfish facilities outside of Cobscook Bay if a positive case of ISAV is detected. The new rules expand DMR’s authority to take action at not only infected facilities, but also those exposed to ISAV. The rules require DMR to consult with all relevant state and federal entities with expertise in ISA control to keep ISA from spreading and prevent further outbreaks.

In response to the ISA outbreaks, the Maine DMR, with assistance of the USDA/APHIS also implemented an ISA control and indemnity program for farm-raised salmon in the U.S. The funds provided by the USDA were used to help the State of Maine with epidemiology and surveillance, and to indemnify the industry for their losses due to ISA. Under the DMR rule, all salmon growers in Maine must participate in the program. The goal of this program is to control and contain the disease through rapid detection and depopulation of salmon that have been infected with or exposed to the ISA virus.

In Spring 2002, Maine DMR authorized the restocking of Cobscook Bay. The Bay had lain fallow since January 2002. This authorization followed USDA approval of the cleaning and disinfection of equipment and the fallowing period. Subsequent to approval, the aquaculture industry stocked 1.9 million smolts on seven farms in Cobscook Bay. The number of smolts stocked was 30% lower than the amount historically stocked in this area (DMR 2002). New husbandry standards have also been put in place as part of the ISA control program. These new standards are administered by DMR.

The ISA control program initially divided Cobscook Bay into two management areas, a southern and a northern zone. The southern zone was stocked in even years beginning in Spring 2002. The northern zone was stocked only in odd years, beginning in Spring 2003. Recently, USDA and Maine DMR have determined that the entire Cobscook Bay would be managed as a single area. DMR estimated that by there would be approximately 25% fewer fish in Cobscook Bay compared to previous levels. In addition, several conditions are required for each lot of smolts that are introduced into net-pens from freshwater hatcheries. All aquaculture facilities in Cobscook Bay are only permitted to raise a single-year class of fish. A minimum thirty-day fallowing period between production cycles is required. No more than 10% of the fish at a site may be carried over between production cycles and then only upon approval by DMR. This approval requires that no ISA is detected at the site during the production cycle, that general fish health is satisfactory, that fish are removed by September 1, and that there be a biweekly surveillance of the site by a fish health professional. Movement of fish between farms in the same zone requires a permit and verification that ISAV has not been detected at either site in the four weeks prior to movement. There will be no moving of fish between zones. In addition, farms, aquaculture vessels and processing plants are subject to routine third-party biosecurity audits. Despite these measures, additional cases of ISAV were detected at aquaculture sites in Cobscook Bay beginning in June 2003 and continuing in 2004.

The DMR’s bay management program was developed following an evaluation of other bay management and ISA control programs in Canada, Ireland, Scotland and Norway. These nations have developed control programs intended to prevent further outbreaks of the disease. The DMR plans to codify bay management husbandry standards in a rule and establish other bay management areas where finfish leases are located. Successful sea lice management and control is a necessary component of bay area management as sea lice have been shown to retain the ISA virus after feeding on infected salmon (Nylund et al. 1993).

During routine surveillance of all salmon culture sites in Maine, an apparently new strain of ISAV was detected in November 2003 at a site approximately 50 miles from Cobscook Bay. This was the first detection of ISAV at any site in Maine other than Cobscook Bay. The new strain did not cause disease in the cultured salmon and did not grow in the laboratory on various cell lines typically used in ISA isolation. Gene sequencing of this organism indicates it is more closely related to a Norwegian strain than the New Brunswick strain that has caused the mortalities in Cobscook Bay. Subsequently, this new strain has also been found in Cobscook Bay sites. Efforts are underway to sequence archived samples to determine the significance of the virus in the Cobscook Bay system.

One potential mode of disease transmission is through biological sampling conducted by various state and federal agencies in DPS rivers. The development and implementation of disinfection and biosecurity protocols reduces the risk of a pathogen being moved from one location to another (G. Russell Danner, IF&W fish pathologist, personal communication 2004). Disinfection and biosecurity protocols, where not already in place, should be developed and implemented for all research and sampling activities taking place in rivers within the DPS (see page 4-63).

Public and scientific influence in recovery of Columbia salmon for orcas

Great news last week from Save our Wild Salmon et al.: Judge Redden has again ruled that the Biological Opinion for managing Columbia Basin salmon is illegal and scientifically inadequate. This KPLU story on the timeline for revising or renewing the BiOp suggests that the Locke/Lubchenko team will probably not have time to react before the 2012 elections.  The Judge has allowed the current BiOp to guide management decisions through 2013.

Chris Dunagan’s synopsis (including a link to a PDF of the Judge’s opinion) references an OregonLive piece that quoted NOAA Regional Director Will Stelle implying that habitat restoration (not dam removal or more spill) will likely satisfy Redden’s concerns:

Will Stelle, NOAA’s Northwest regional director, said he thinks adding more detail to future habitat projects will satisfy the judge. Redden endorsed the plan through 2013, Stelle noted, and his conclusions about habitat were “totally understandable.”  “He ordered us to tighten up on the habitat program after 2013, and that’s fine,” Stelle said. “We were intending to do it anyway.”

So, it seems that local NOAA leadership is focused on saving salmon and orcas by restoring habitat in the Columbia basin while considering the needs of killer whales in the management of recreational and commercial fisheries.  Back in February, Stelle/NOAA proposed a series of workshops to assess the effect of salmon fisheries on (southern resident) killer whales.  The second workshop is due to occur about now: “Workshop 2 (~ 2 days) would occur in late summer or autumn of 2011.”  Does anyone have any news about the first workshop or a particular date for the second?

At the Federal level, NOAA leadership on salmon management has been profoundly disappointing.  I would love to understand how Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (past WA Governor) and NOAA Director Jane Lubchenko (an established marine ecologist from OSU) managed to squander such a rare opportunity to derive a progressive plan and begin implementing it during their 4 years with Obama.  If the Democrats lose in 2012, Gary and Jane should be remembered most for failing the salmon, killer whales, and conservationists of the Pacific Northwest.

How did Gary and Jane fail the King of Fish?  Does anyone have any insights into the politics behind their actions?  Were the WA Senators influencing the process to retain votes in Eastern Washington?  If so, how did they motivate the appointed leaders within the Department of Commerce?

Another question is whether it is worth organizing now (as killer whale and salmon conservationists) to motivate Lubchenko to create a new BiOp that is fully based in science and politically progressive.  Perhaps it would be strategic to motivate them to create a plan in the next year so that it is in place before the 2012 elections and the potential changes in leadership that will occur as 2013 starts?  If the Democrats win and Gary/Jane are retained by Barak, then how GREAT would it be if they had a new and innovative BiOp ready for implementation on the first day of 2014 — halfway through their second term — or even sooner?

In any case, we should lobby for much greater transparency in the derivation of a new BiOp, or the revision of the old BiOps.  In preparation, we need to understand how the previous processes were NOT transparent.  Some history, insightful questions, and observations arose during the KUOW Weekday discussion about Salmon and Snake River Dams July 5, 2011:

Steven Hawley (journalist) — Has the process by which the Federal agencies (including the BPA) have made public policy been transparent (enough)?

  1. 2005 — Judge remanded Bush-era plan back to Federal agencies (he had rejected Clinton plan in 2000)
  2. 2005 — BPA Utilities and Senator Craig tried to cut funding for Fish Passage Center (that had published data showing more water is good for fish)
  3. 2006 — Concern about fish passage model led to scientists being pulled from a panel
  4. 2007 — BPA violated court-ordered spill program…

How can the public influence the plan and vision for the Columbia River Basin and its management (as opposed to scientists and the Federal government)?

Were scientists consulting (for a 2009 science meeting related to the Biop) required to sign confidentiality agreements (within their contracts)?

How has the National Academy of Scientists been in involved?  What overlap — if any — was there between NAS members and consulting scientists?

William Rogers is happy about the returns.  What are the recent trends?  GRAPH?

Hawley: Should we be measuring success in some way other than standard of 93-96% survival PER DAM of migrating juveniles and adults?  The cumulative (downstream?) impact of the hydropower system is to reduce runs by ~50%.

Lorri Bodi (BPA): “In 2011 our spring chinook run (wild and hatchery) was the fifth highest since 1938.  In 2011 the summer chinook run (wild and hatchery) is expected to be the biggest in 30 years.”

Big fall chinook run expected on Columbia

Today’s Weekender Report from WDFW suggests SRKWs could have some good eating off the mouth of the Columbia this fall.  Does anyone have a read on how the Fraser chinook runs are faring this summer?  Why don’t killer whale conservationists have an easy way of monitoring the abundance of northwest salmon?

Anglers are reeling in chinook salmon off the coast, pulling up pots full of crab in Puget Sound, and casting for trout in alpine lakes on both sides of the Cascades.  Summer fisheries are in full swing, and anglers can look forward to even more great fishing opportunities in the days ahead.

A prime example is the Buoy 10 salmon fishery, which runs Aug. 1-28 at the mouth of the Columbia River. A big run of 776,300 fall chinook is expected to return to the big river this year, and fishery managers predict that anglers will catch approximately 11,000 of them between Buoy 10 and Rocky Point, 16 miles upriver.

“Buoy 10 is a very popular fishery, drawing tens of thousands of anglers every year,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  “Fishing tends to start out slow, then accelerates quickly through the month of August.”

Virus implicated in Fraser sockeye (and chinook?) mortality

The idea that a virus may play a part in the unpredictable Fraser river sockeye returns is (month) old news, but this article in Scientific American is the first to mention chinook that I’ve seen.  Perhaps the fate of the southern resident killer whales (who specialize on Fraser chinook in the summertime) is more connected than we thought to whatever marine factors govern the population dynamics of Fraser River sockeye?

“One of the most important findings of this study was the fact that salmon were already compromised before entering the river” on their journey home to spawn, she wrote. The scientists are currently studying juvenile salmon to see if the genomic signature is already present before they go out to the open ocean. Miller-Saunders also reports “there is some indication that the signature may be in Chinook and coho” salmon, too.

Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

In our on-going efforts to monitor Pacific salmon dynamics and interpret them from the perspective of southern resident killer whales, today brings news of a 6-hour commercial net fishery opening on the lower Columbia River.  It’s amazing that it’s even worth going out in a boat when the catch is limited to the first six hatchery-origin chinook!  I guess one can infer there about 200 boats in the fleet, based on the limit and the predicted total catch of about 1200 chinook (70% from upper Columbia and Snake Rivers).

From the southern residents’ perspective, interesting questions are how many fish are expected and when are they arriving (especially compared to past years).  The article ends with this:

The forecast is for an upper Columbia run of 198,000. Through Sunday, a total of 262 spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam.

The source of these data was revealed by a recreational fisher’s guide to catching spring chinook on the lower Columbia as the Fish Passage Center (FPC) which is in the business of counting fish in the ladders of the many Columbia River dams.  The guide also gave a big-picture description of the overall spring run timing as “about 6 weeks in late March through April” and provides a nice summary of how the fishery follows the fish up the various tributaries of the Columbia, starting with the Willamette (because OR releases hatchery fish there a couple weeks before WA).

It would be interesting to juxtapose the timing and locations of all available winter/spring orca sightings outside of Puget Sound from past years with the time series of spring Columbia (and Fraser?) fish passage.  For starters, here is a link to Columbia adult fish passage data, some of which are summarized in the following graph that shows the spring chinook run is just beginning on the Columbia.  And here I was thinking that commercial and recreational openings would not occur until some substantial portion of the run had made it to the spawning grounds!

Now is the time of year when the NWFSC crew would typically be preparing for their spring cruise to search for southern residents on the outer coast of WA, including off the Columbia where they have observed SRKWs feeding on chinook from the upper Columbia and Snake .  Unfortunately, NOAA funding and/or ship logistics have ruled out such a cruise this year.

Fraser and Bristol Bay sockeye runs compared

This article regarding a proposed open-pit mine in AK has a few insights into the Fraser River watershed, including this assertion that could suggest foci for conservation actions:

Mining, pulp mills, agriculture, forestry, roads and other development in the Fraser River watershed all cause water pollution and regular violations of water quality standards for copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, chromium and many other pollutants toxic to salmon.

Orca refuge: a gift for endangered killer whales

Mother and calf seeking refuge

This Friday, January 15, 2010, is the deadline for public comment on the proposed orca conservation area along the west side of San Juan Island. All marine conservationists should consider commenting on these precedent-setting rules: comment via email | comment via web form.  (Official background and the PDF of proposed rule are on the NOAA web page.)

If you are short on time, you can simply sign the petition in support of the proposed rules.  The petition will be submitted to NOAA by the comment deadline.

Give a New Year’s gift to the southern residents  — comment on these precedent-setting rules before midnight (EST for web submittal; PST for emailed comments) this Friday, January 15, 2010: comment via email | comment via web form.

“Current regulations in the U.S. to protect marine mammals stem from the whaling era and focus on prohibiting individual acts that harm marine mammals.  If our society is to protect marine life from today’s threats, the regulatory process will need to change to protect the quality of habitats on which marine mammals depend.” — Peter Tyack, Physics Today, November, 2009.

Salmon court fallacy: we must spill or spew

There are some great observations and quotes in the liveblog of Matthey Preusch during the Nov 23, 2009, Salmon Court. This first one suggests a slight of hand or an ignorance of the primary findings of the Bright Future report
— that we do not necessarily have to choose between spilling water for salmon in the summer months and spewing carbon dioxide from more fossil-fueled power plants.

Now the judge is questioning the government of [on] the substance of the supplemental plan, such as why the government won’t continue to spill extra water over power-producing dams even though court-ordered spill has been shown to help fish.

The spills “look like they worked,” said Redden. “Why change them?”

“Your honor, that comes with a cost,” answered Howell, attorney for the government. “And I’m not talking about financial cost. I’m talking about carbon. The more we spill, the more we are going to have to offset that with natural gas and coal.”

The bright future scenario includes replacement of the dam’s 1 GW mean annual power supply with salmon-and-orca-friendly clean energy, NOT new or re-powered of coal and gas power plants. This is perhaps the most damning indication that the government is not thinking clearly about the fundamental “change we need” (and the southern residents and salmon need) here in the Pacific Northwest.

Personally, I believe with compelling public education about what values are really at stake, we can exceed the assumptions about potential conservation. As usual, no one wants to talk about the projected growth of energy demand (1.7%/yr) and its connections to population/economic growth and consumer/conservation ethics.

Also very noteworthy was Lubchenko’s statement that she stands “100% behind the science” in the Biop. As a marine scientist, I am eager to see just what she is behind. Thankfully, we may ultimately get the chance if we are to believe the statement by Howell, lead attorney for the government, who:

offered in an exchange with Judge Redden earlier this morning to make public documents from the administration’s review of the science behind the Bush-era salmon plan.

That’s something the government’s critics have been asking for for some time.

“We will release those documents,” Howell said.

Progress for Skagit salmon

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

July 10, 2009
Contact: Lora Leschner, (425) 775-1311 ext. 121

Portion of the Skagit Wildlife Area will close as work resumes on estuary restoration

OLYMPIA – Beginning July 15, the 175-acre Headquarters Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area will be closed to public access as crews resume work on a major estuary-restoration project at the mouth of the Skagit River.

The closed area includes the public boat ramp and the dike-top trails along the Skagit River and Wiley Slough.

Crews will be removing approximately 6,500 feet of dikes and levees, allowing tides and the river to reclaim the area south of a newly constructed setback dike that was completed earlier this year. The restoration project began in 2008, when crews installed a new, larger tidegate farther upstream on Wiley Slough.

Lora Leschner, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the work is scheduled to be completed in early September, when the Headquarters Unit will re-open to the public.

“Once we remove the old dikes and levees, the major work on this restoration project will be completed,” Leschner said.

WDFW owns and manages the entire 16,708-acre Skagit Wildlife Area to preserve habitat for fish and wildlife, while also providing a site for outdoor recreation. Leschner suggests that boaters use the ramp in Conway off Fir Island Road as an alternative while work is under way on the restoration project.

First proposed in 2002 by the Skagit Watershed Council, the Wiley Slough project is designed to restore 160 acres of estuarine salmon habitat that was diked and drained to create farmland in 1962. The federal salmon recovery plan for Puget Sound identifies the project as an important step toward restoring chinook stocks in the Skagit River.

Partners in the project include WDFW, the Skagit River System Cooperative, Seattle City Light and the Skagit Watershed Council, with funding from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

State and federal agencies are providing $3.8 million for the restoration work and Seattle City Light contributed another $150,000 to the project.

“After work is completed in September, the Headquarters Unit will no longer be suitable for pheasant releases,” said Leschner. “But we are looking at several alternative sites where we might be able to relocate our pheasant release operations.”

Leschner said potential pheasant release sites were discussed at a public meeting earlier this year and that the department plans to schedule another public meeting later this summer.

To address concerns about lands lost to hunting, WDFW is working with a coalition of hunters, recreationists, farmers and other landowners to secure hunter access to private lands in the area.

In addition, the department agreed to improve the boat launch, maintain the nearby “island segment” for hunting and improve hiking trails in the Headquarters Unit of the wildlife area. Riparian vegetation will be planted to replace songbird habitat.

WDFW has already purchased 250 acres near Bayview on Padilla Bay that will eventually provide additional wildlife habitat and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

For more information on the Wiley Slough restoration project, see WDFW’s report to the 2008 Legislature at . Questions can also be directed to the WDFW Region 4 Office at (425) 775-1311.

Information on the Skagit Wildlife Area is available on WDFW’s website at .

This message has been sent to the WDFW News Releases & Weekender mailing list.
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Prey relationship talks

8:35 John Ford, resident KW foraging ecology

What may have caused the simultaneous declines in the N and S residents during the late 1990s?  Nutritional stress?

We compared expected and observed births and deaths, where expectations were based on period of unlimited growth (’73-’90).  There were two phases of increased mortality in adult/juvenile fe/males: late 90s for N and S, mid-80s for southern and A pods.

Sockeye outnumber Chinook by 1000x in areas where residents forage during the summer.  Yet Sockeye make up less than 1% of diet during sampling period (May-Oct).  Only adult males don’t bring prey (of all species) to the surface for sharing.  This indicates that our surface prey fragment sampling technique isn’t biased.  Additionally, sockeye swim shallow and Chinook deep, but we’ve only sampled 3 sockeye predation events.

Sub-adults show some preference for smaller fish like Pink and Chum that make up about about 20% of their diet.  Recent winter sampling show continued chinook preference: 2 samples in Jan from N residents; 2 from J pod near Nanaimo Chinook.  They didn’t see enhanced mortality in weaners (expected in mammals under nutritional stress), perhaps because of prey sharing. Mortality lags chinook abundance by 1 year.

The Chinook abundance index is a bit below average currently, so we expect high mortalities next year.  A research priority is to identify important Chinook stocks for whales (Brian Gisborn, Brad Hanson).  How many are hatchery fish?

9:01 Jennifer (for Brad), species and stock ID for southern residents

Goals were to supplement Ford’s prey samples (beyond J pod), to collect fecal/regurgitation samples (to avoid potential bias in surface fragment sampling), and to define foraging surface behavior.  We now have ~150 fecal samples and 250 foraging samples that have been analyzed genetically.

Feces were screened for rockfish, sole, starry flounder, pacific halibut,  Irish lords, herring, sculpin, sable fish, greenling, lingcod, cabezon, and squid.  Thus far, we have detected (rarely) rockfish, sole, Pacific halibut, and lingcod.

Prey sampling results — Steelhead may be imporant in May.  Chinook dominate from May-September.

Fecal sampling results — Chinook dominate in May-September, but Chum is also important in September.

Breakdown of Chinook stocks is based on GAPS database which gives genetic profile for each river from 20k sampled fish.  They appear to be eating Chinook in rough proportion to what is available (most dense by number? biomass?).

Future work is focused on bioenergetics (how many fish do they consume and do they impact the stocks?) and availability (Is background noise impeding foraging efficiency?).  We need samples in Sept-Dec and May!

Eric Ward, risk analysis

Developed a fecundity model which was age specific (the rate of maturity is much faster than rate reproductive senesence).  Extrinsic factors were prey, contaminants, anthropogenic events (oil spills).  Can’t assess oil spill risks and disease risks (due to lack of data), nor do extant data help us characterize the variability of fecundity between sub-populations (e.g. pods) and indivduals.

Used Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) indices (terminal run) from to characterize prey.  Also look at Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) relative index.  Ballard locks was used to get a U.S. sockeye time series to compare with the big (25 million) Fraser sockeye runs.  Used ENSO and PDO time series to characterize climatic variability.

Is the SR production different from NR?  It looks similar (~90+% of NR production rate).  High probability of prey (Chinook) correlates highly w/fecundity.  Late run Fraser and Oregon coastal stocks are driving the correlation of the prey variable.