Salmon make marginal recovery in local waters

Kirk Boxleitner, kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 2/21/17

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office has reported that it is seeing some returns on its two decades of investment, but the results remain uneven.

While some salmon populations, such as Hood …

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Salmon make marginal recovery in local waters

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The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office has reported that it is seeing some returns on its two decades of investment, but the results remain uneven.

While some salmon populations, such as Hood Canal summer chum, are not only improving but very nearly reaching their recovery goals, other populations, such as Puget Sound chinook and steelhead, have been classified as “below goal” and “getting worse,” even though they’re already classified as endangered species. What does this mean for Jefferson County specifically?

PROGRESS MADE

The Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group received four of the seven grants that the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board gave to groups in Jefferson County this past year.

Seth Elsen, program development lead for the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and the Salmon Center, described what he sees as a “positive trend” in the results achieved by “groups like ours.”

“Restoring the salmon’s habitat tends to give them a better foothold than trying to supplement their numbers,” Elsen said. “Every salmon lays thousands of eggs that go back into the system. The better the habitat, the better their chances for survival.”

Elsen cited climate change as a complicating factor, noting that streamflows have gone from being driven by snowmelt to being subject to more flash surges after heavy rainstorms, the latter of which scours out salmon nests and makes streams more difficult for salmon to navigate.

“They’re fighting against a current that’s more high-velocity and harder-flowing,” Elsen said.

Although limited budgets have precluded the Salmon Center from expanding its scope to species such as Puget Sound steelhead, Elsen believes Washington could be in the midst of a “slowly creeping recovery,” and credited state and federal agencies with heading in “a good direction so far.”

With possible changes coming on the federal level, Elsen suggested that those residents who are interested should contact their lawmakers and request that productive salmon recovery programs continue.

LOCAL FISHERY

Johnpaul Davies, owner of Key City Fish, sees not just a singular environment, but a “super-complex river system, made up of countless individual ecosystems,” some of which are in decline, while others are not.

“The good news is that reclamation programs have been a demonstrated success,” Davies said, “but we haven’t had a blockbuster for five years. We’ve seen diminishing yields.”

Davies deemed fisheries such as Key City to be “well positioned” to take advantage of the available supply, but he also acknowledged that his is a relatively smaller fleet.

“We’re not regional,” Davies said. “The bulk of our fish are local.”

Davies praised Native American tribes for their stewardship of salmon.

“We like the way they manage to create year-round availability,” Davies said. “It helps when your seafood is not only local, but fresh as well. You don’t have to tell your customers, ‘Sorry, we caught our entire haul in March.’”

In addition to factors such as global warming, Davies pointed out that even the best fishing seasons tend to be cyclical.

“I think we’ll see an upswing eventually,” Davies said. “The Northwest and especially Washington have been very effective in positioning themselves to meet the goal of sustainable salmon populations. The number of reclamation grants that have been awarded in this county shows they’re getting great results.”

THROUGHOUT THE REGION

Joel Kawahara of Jefferson County has been an Alaskan fisherman since 1978, and plays an active role on the Alaskan and Washington troller associations. As such, his perspective is a bit broader than Jefferson County, and what he’s seeing is “just not very good in general” for the current state of fish.

“Once you’re outside state waters, 3 miles into the ocean, you’re dealing with a mix of fish populations,” Kawahara said. “There are bright spots, like Jefferson County, that seem to be doing very successfully, but one bad river or region can hurt your take a lot.”

Kawahara credited the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, in Port Hadlock, with leading much of the way in the restoration of Pacific Northwest watersheds, particularly summer chum and coho populations.

At the same time, he noted how heavily the fisheries industry depends on the Columbia River stocks.

“Unless you completely kill that river, which we’ve inadvertently tried very hard to do, that’s not going to change,” Kawahara said. “Hydroelectric development is taking away from our productivity.”

Kawahara deemed habitat protection and restoration “the most important parts” of salmon recovery.

“When you take that resource away, it takes everyone working together to bring it back,” Kawahara said. “The salmon will go away if we don’t start working together more.”

THE TRIBES TIE IT TOGETHER

“I can see where the reports can seem conflicting,” said Scott Chitwood, natural resources department director for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. “But what I think this shows is that most of the progress that’s been made in salmon recovery has been made in habitat restoration.”

Chitwood cited the “great work” being done in Jefferson and Clallam counties to “mitigate the damage” done to salmon habitats, but he deemed it an open question regarding how salmon populations would respond to those projects.

“It will take some time, and the smaller streams will show their results sooner,” Chitwood said. “In the Chimacum and Snow creeks, the work that’s been done with summer chum, those efforts have been more quick to show progress. You don’t see that as much with Puget Sound chinook.”

Chitwood sees the need for more work on larger river systems, but also acknowledged the difficulty of making progress as the human population grows and encroaches even further on wildlife.

“The more we share the land with the wildlife, the more of an impact our actions have on their habitat,” Chitwood said. “That’s why every little bit of community support for habitat restoration helps.”

Chitwood praised volunteers ranging from “the beach watchers to the tree planters” who had already made a difference, and encouraged more to join them.

(Editor's Note: This story part of Peninsula Proud: Leader Progress Edition, published in The Leader on Feb. 22)

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