Skokomish Tribe Controlling Japanese Oyster Drills on Tidelands

Shellfish technician Josh Hermann loads a cinderblock cell with oyster clusters with oyster drills on them. Click on the photo to see more at NWIFC’s Flickr page.

Shellfish technician Josh Hermann loads a cinderblock cell with oyster clusters with oyster drills on them. Click on the photo to see more at NWIFC’s Flickr page.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Skokomish Tribe has strategically placed nearly 100 cinderblocks on the Skokomish tidelands with hopes of attracting an invasive shellfish, the ornate Japanse oyster drill.

“Oyster drills are known to seek out hard vertical structures to gather and lay their egg cases, so by experimentally baiting them with cinder blocks, we’re hoping to lessen their impacts on our oyster seed,” said Chris Eardley, the tribe’s Shellfish Biologist. “We’re going to try and use the biology of these creatures against them.”

The snails release a pheromone to attract others, so Eardley hopes his 72 cinder blocks across eight acres of tidelands will be covered with snails and eggs soon, which will be collected by the staff and removed from the tidelands. The tribe is employing a few methods of drill control and will do an end-of-season survey in late summer to see if the population decreased.

The invasive snail with a pointed two-inch shell latches onto young Pacific oysters, drills a hole through the shell, then eats the meat, killing the oyster.

“They’re detrimental to the oyster population that we’re trying to build and sustain on the tidelands,” Eardley said, “but my chickens will like them.”

Native Vegetation Filling in Restored Skokomish Estuary

Skokomish Tribe habitat biologist Shannon Kirby takes note of the types of vegetation found in the Skokomish Estuary.

Skokomish Tribe habitat biologist Shannon Kirby takes note of the types of vegetation found in the Skokomish Estuary.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commiussion

Kneeling in a thicket of vegetation in the Skokomish estuary, Shannon Kirby combs her hands through the tall green grasses in front of her, calling out codes that identify them by size, type and abundance.

The habitat biologist for the Skokomish Tribe is studying the native freshwater and saltwater vegetation that is taking over the Skokomish estuary, which was diked and dredged for 100 years until recently.

“The response in vegetation is very promising, as is the diversity that’s out here,” Kirby said. “Estuarine plants are a huge source of food for animals, and double as a water filtration system, neutralizing pollutants and providing nutrients for plant growth. We’re right on target for where an estuary should be.”

The tribe is finding pickleweed, salt grass, sedges, rushes, sea arrow grass and Puget Sound gumweed.

Since 2010, every August, when vegetation is in full bloom, tribal staff visit 75 sites throughout the 1,000-acre estuary, looking at plant types, sizes, growth and soil composition.

These observations coincide with the tribe’s insect studies, which include conducting lavages on juvenile salmon to determine the insects they are eating.

“The quality of salmon habitat is determined by the plants that are out here and the insect food source,” Kirby said.

The tribe has been restoring the estuary at the mouth of the Skokomish River since 2007, through dike and culvert removal, large woody debris installation and native plant revegetation. Through three phases so far, the tribe has restored up to 1,000 acres of habitat for salmon and wildlife.

Skokomish Tribe upgrades water quality lab

Charlene Nelson, Shoalwater Bay Tribe chair and Guy Miller, Skokomish Tribe chairman, finalize the Skokomish Tribe’s purchase of water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Charlene Nelson, Shoalwater Bay Tribe chair and Guy Miller, Skokomish Tribe chairman, finalize the Skokomish Tribe’s purchase of water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Skokomish Tribe is upgrading its water quality lab to a state-of-the-art facility.

The tribe recently purchased high-end water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe to conduct more sophisticated work, such as looking for cancer-causing compounds.

“It’s a major deal for Hood Canal,” said Ron Figlar Barnes, the Skokomish Tribe’s EPA coordinator. “It’s an opportunity for tribes within Hood Canal and Puget Sound to have close access to this type of equipment and help everyone. We’re bringing high-end water quality equipment to a more centrally located area.”

The Shoalwater Tribe used the equipment to research toxins causing reproductive issues with its tribal members. The tribe tested a variety of sources, including water, soil, tissue, marine animals and finfish, looking for compounds that are toxic, such as flame retardants and PCBs.

“We haven’t had a need for it lately though, so now we’re able to pass it on to someone else,” said Gary Burns, director of Shoalwater Bay Tribe’s environmental program.

Without the new equipment, the Skokomish Tribe could test water samples only for dissolved oxygen, e.coli, phosphorus, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia  The tests help alert the tribe to any potential water quality problem in the Skokomish River and potentially Hood Canal. The tribe still has to send off water samples to be tested for fecal coliform but hopes to do it in-house in the future.

“Once the advanced lab is set up, which is expected to be within a year, the tribe will be able to expand testing to include fish and shellfish tissue,” said Figlar Barnes.

“We’re not going to limit ourselves,” said Guy Miller , the Skokomish Tribe Chairman. “We’re going to use it in every way we can to help our people, our community and our natural resources.”