Category Archives: Salmon

Fraser pollution and sockeye decline

In this Globe and Mail article, yet another suggestion that exposure to in-river contaminants may be a factor in the survival of Fraser River salmon:

Among the endocrine disrupting ingredients identified in the Fraser were industrial chemicals, pesticides, compounds with a carbon-metal bond, pharmaceuticals and “several estrogen-like compounds,” the report says.

It states that data are insufficient to evaluate the impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds, but notes reports from First Nation fishermen that salmon are smaller on average, increasingly have blotchy skin and of one male sockeye that had ovaries, are cause for concern.

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.

L pod in SF Bay

I love this quote from a spokeswoman from the Marine Sanctuary outside of San Francisco Bay where L pod was observed foraging last week:

“It’s nice they’re showing up, but it’s too bad there’s not enough food for them up north,” Schramm said.

That’s pretty funny since L pod is almost surely pursuing salmon of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basin — populations which have been plagued by dismal returns in recent years, despite seeing the best returns last fall since 2006.  So, what struggling northern river systems and salmon populations is she pondering?  (The Columbia I hope!)

It goes to show you that we Washingtonians have a lot of communicating about orcas and their prey to do with the keepers of other river systems that feed the southern residents, particularly during the winter.

> Read the whole story

> Take action for CA fish

> Tell Representatives to save CA fish

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.

Researchers call for orca conservation zone in B.C.

Dec 23 Vancouver Sun article about a forth-coming science paper that proposes a conservation zone that overlaps with the proposed orca sanctuary boundaries:

Wildlife researchers have identified the key feeding area for a critically endangered population of killer whales near Vancouver Island and proposed the creation of a unique, miniature conservation zone for the few square kilometres encompassing the animals’ favourite seafood restaurant.

The international team of scientists, including University of British Columbia biologist Rob Williams and colleagues from Britain and the U.S., spent four months in the summer of 2006 painstakingly monitoring the movements of a three-pod population of killer whales in waters off B.C. and Washington state that numbers just 87 individuals — so few that every animal has been identified from distinctive markings.

The researchers found the whales were about three times more likely to feast on Chinook salmon — their preferred meal — in a narrow coastal strip south of Washington’s San Juan Island than anywhere else in their summer range.

In an article published in the latest issue of the journal Animal Conservation, the scientists propose strict protections on this whale-dining “hot spot,” arguing that the no go zone is small enough to establish a practical system for diverting all boat traffic but large enough to guarantee the whales unfettered feeding.

“Protecting even small patches of water can provide conservation benefits, as long as we choose the spots wisely,” said lead researcher Erin Ashe, a biologist at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, in a summary of the study.

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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Good news for Nooksack salmon

Maybe this ban will help us seek ways to restore floodplains in western Washington after the massive modification of them (from the salmons’ perspective) by large woody debris removal, dredging, diking, development, etc.
clipped from
State bill would ban new urban growth in floodplains

Law could affect future city planning along Nooksack River

The bill, which has passed the House and Senate and is headed for Gov. Chris Gregoire’s desk, would prohibit designating new urban growth areas in floodplains, although there are several exceptions that would still allow it.

To read EHB 1967, the bill that would ban expansions of urban growth areas into floodplains, go to, and type in 1967 into “Search by Bill Number.”
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