Nisqually Tribe looking for connections between zooplankton and salmon


May 27th, 2014 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Nisqually Indian Tribe is trying to find a way to predict future salmon runs by measuring what juvenile salmon eat on their way out to the ocean.

The tribe is expanding their research on local salmon to take a look at zooplankton in deep South Sound, which young salmon eat after leaving the Nisqually River. “Eventually, we might be able to connect the availability of food in Puget Sound with chinook runs three or four years down the line,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe.

As they migrate to the open ocean, juvenile salmon consume small animals like zooplankton. Nisqually tribal researchers want to find out if there’s less food in Puget Sound when salmon are migrating out, meaning fewer may be coming back.

Jed Moore and Emiliano Perez, Nisqually natural resources staff, deploy a plankton net in deep South Sound.
Jed Moore and Emiliano Perez, Nisqually natural resources staff, deploy a plankton net in deep South Sound.

The study will examine the entire community structure of competitors and predators, including plankton and other fish species. A smolt trap operated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife on the Nisqually River will determine the timing, size and number of out-migrating salmon.

The tribe will sample juvenile fish from the Nisqually estuary and adjacent marine areas using a beach seine and lampara net. At the same time, the tribe will sample the water for zooplankton and other small animals. “If we find that in years when a lot of food is available, salmon survive to return at higher rates, we could more easily predict future salmon runs,” Troutt said.

In an earlier study of chinook leaving the Nisqually River, the tribe found a direct connection between fish that were able to find food in the river’s estuary and those able to make it back as adults. “We typically find two groups of juvenile chinook leaving the watershed,” Troutt said. “The fish that stayed and fed in the estuary survived to return as adults while those with other life history strategies did not.”

The tribe’s research is part of the region-wide Salish Sea Marine Survival Project. The project brings together researchers in both the United States and Canada to better understand the relationship between salmon and the marine environment.

Treaty Indian tribes are locally based and use cutting edge management techniques, making them uniquely qualified to conduct close to the ground research. “Being able to understand the salmon life cycle is important if we want to preserve our treaty protected right to harvest salmon,” said Georgiana Kautz, natural resources manager for the tribe. “Our treaty rights depend on there being fish actually available to harvest.”

Lawsuit Threatens Steelhead Recovery


Steelhead-Salmon-River1-300x222Apr 7th, 2014

Both hatchery and wild fish are needed for steelhead and salmon recovery in western Washington, says Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“There’s no way we can do it without both,” said Frank, responding to a lawsuit against the state of Washington by a group claiming that state hatchery steelhead releases are undermining recovery of ESA-listed wild steelhead, chinook and bull trout in Puget Sound.

The Wild Fish Conservancy wants the program halted and is seeking an injunction to stop the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from releasing nearly 1 million hatchery steelhead this spring. WDFW has said it will not release the fish unless or until it can reach an agreement with the group.

Science guides the operation of hatcheries in western Washington, Frank said. Hatcheries are carefully managed to protect the genetic health of wild fish. Without hatcheries and the fish they produce, there would be no fishing at all.

“It’s important to remember why we have hatcheries in the first place,” he said. “They were built to make up for lost natural steelhead and salmon production that has been nearly destroyed by habitat loss and damage. They have been an important part of salmon management in Washington for more than 100 years.”

Indian and non-Indian fishermen, their families, businesses and many others depend on the salmon and steelhead that hatcheries provide, Frank said. Because wild fish populations have continued to decline along with their habitat, hatcheries are critical to providing fish for harvest.

Hatchery fish are also essential to fulfilling tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights, which depend on fish being available for harvest. Properly managed hatcheries can be a valuable tool for wild fish restoration by supplementing natural spawning and increasing natural-origin fish abundance, Frank said.

“But we must also stop the loss and damage of steelhead and salmon habitat in our watersheds,” Frank said. “The reasons that hatcheries were built in the first place have not changed, and have only gotten worse. We are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored and protected, and that trend is not improving.”

That is why lawsuits like the one filed by the Wild Fish Conservancy are so disappointing, Frank said.

Once a hatchery salmon is released, it has the same habitat needs as wild fish. Those needs include clean, cold water; access to and from the sea; and good spawning habitat.

“Lost and damaged habitat, not hatcheries or harvest, is what’s driving wild steelhead and salmon populations toward extinction,” Frank said. “The focus needs to be on fixing and protecting habitat, not fighting over hatcheries and the fish they produce. Climate change and exploding population growth are only making our habitat problems worse, which in turn makes hatcheries even more important for wild fish and all of us.”

If the state ultimately does not release the fish, both Indian and non-Indian fishermen and local economies will feel the effects quickly and for a long time, Frank said. “The tribes and state learned a long time ago that our money, time and energy are better spent working together for the benefit of the resource than fighting each other in court. We need cooperation, not litigation, to achieve salmon and steelhead recovery.”

For more information: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, (360-438-1180); or Emmett O’Connell (360- 438-1180)

Washington Tribes excluded from decision to hold 2014 winter steelhead hatchery release: State reacts to Conservancy lawsuit, halting the release of more than 900,000 steelhead

The new Elwha Tribal fish hatchery on the Elwha reservation is to be used to supplement populations of fish that naturally recolonize the river as habitat becomes available. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2011
The new Elwha Tribal fish hatchery on the Elwha reservation is to be used to supplement populations of fish that naturally recolonize the river as habitat becomes available. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2011

By Andrew Gobin, Tulalip News

“The hatcheries were built for one reason. That is to make up for lost natural and salmon production caused by habitat loss,” said Billy Frank Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fish Commission, in reaction to Washington State’s decision to hold 900,000 steelhead slated to be released from state hatcheries this year. The decision follows a lawsuit filed by Washington’s Wild Fish Conservancy, an environmental group based in Duvall, which contends that hatchery runs are detrimental to wild steelhead and salmon populations, claiming hatchery reared steelhead suffer genetic inferiority and create habitat competition.

The conservancy filed a complaint, claiming the state is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Wild Steelhead were added to the endangered species list in 2007 as threatened, and in the seven years since, according to the conservancy, the state had an obligation to prove that hatchery runs pose no threat to the wild steelhead.

According to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) press release on April 1, the state hatchery operations do not currently have approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is required following the addition of wild steelhead to the endangered species list. That alone opens up the WDFW to legal action.

Phil Anderson of the WDFW said, “We believe strongly that we are operating safe and responsible hatchery programs that meet exacting science-based standards, but without NMFS certification that our hatchery programs comply with the Endangered Species Act, we remain at risk of litigation. We are working hard to complete that process.”

The WDFW has decided that they will not be releasing the ‘early winter’ hatchery steelhead unless the legal issues are resolved. If they continue unresolved, the WDFW will continue to rear the steelhead and release them into lakes in the spring.

Washington tribes, who were neither consulted before the decision nor lawsuit, are very disappointed about the state’s decision, and that the conservancy group did not work to resolve their differences within the 60 day intent period.

“Both Indian and non-Indian fishermen depend on tribal and state hatcheries and the fish they provide. Hatchery steelhead and salmon are also essential to fulfilling promises of tribal treaties with the United States,” Frank said. Those treaty rights depend on fish being available for harvest.

The halt of the steelhead release means the probable end of the state’s steelhead sport fishery. Similarly, continued hindrances to other hatchery operations would have the same drastic effects, for all fisheries in the state, tribal and non-tribal.

Frank said, “Instead of addressing the real problem of steelhead habitat loss, the lawsuit could once again force Indian and non-Indian fishermen to unfairly pay the price for habitat destruction that hatcheries were supposed to make up for. That’s not right.”

Andrew Gobin is a reporter with the See-Yaht-Sub, a publication of the Tulalip Tribes Communications Department.
Phone: (360) 716.4188

Legislature funds final push to rid Puget Sound of derelict fishing nets

When spread out, nets cover a significant amount of habitat.Source: The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative
When spread out, nets cover a significant amount of habitat.
Source: The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative

Source: San Juan Islander

August 2, 2013

OLYMPIA – The final push in a decade-long effort to clear Puget Sound of derelict fishing nets within 105 feet of the surface will get under way later this year with funding approved by the Washington State Legislature.

The state budget adopted last month provides $3.5 million for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to complete the task in partnership with the Northwest Straits Foundation, which has led the net-removal effort since 2002.

Since then, divers working for the non-profit organization have removed 4,437 lost or abandoned fishing nets, 2,765 crab pots and 42 shrimp pots from the waters of Puget Sound. Animals found dead or entangled in that gear include porpoises, sea lions, seabirds, canary rockfish, chinook salmon and Dungeness crab.

According to one predictive catch model, those derelict nets were entangling 3.2 million animals annually every year they remained in the water.

Robyn du Pré, executive director of the foundation, said the new funding will support the removal of approximately 1,000 derelict nets in high-priority areas of Puget Sound after current funding runs out in December.

“These legacy nets have been fishing the waters of the Salish Sea for decades,” du Pré said. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to finish the job and to celebrate a true conservation success story in 2015.” Du Pré added that current fishing net loss is minimal and commercial fishers are now required to report any lost nets.

State Rep. Norma Smith of Whidbey Island led the legislative effort to fund the net-removal initiative.

“I am deeply grateful to my colleagues who helped achieve the goal of a $3.5 million appropriation for the Northwest Straits Foundation to remove the last of the legacy nets from the Puget Sound,” Smith said. “Lost in previous decades, they have had a devastating impact on harvestable natural resources and marine life. Once removed, because of the reporting requirements now in place, this challenge comes to an end. What an achievement!”

WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the new funding is specifically designed to support the removal of derelict fishing nets in areas of the Sound where historic fisheries coincide with bottom conditions likely to snag nets. The foundation locates those nets using sidescan sonar surveys, then dispatches recovery vessels with dive teams to retrieve them.

Few efforts have been made to remove nets from depths of more than 105 feet, because of safety concerns. However, the foundation recently completed an assessment of deepwater net-removal strategies that include the use of remotely operated vehicles, grapples, and deepwater divers.

“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict fishing gear,” Anderson said. “This is difficult work, and it requires a real commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”

Source: Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative
Source: Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative