Estuary projects primarily benefit Chinook, chum, and pink salmon. Steelhead smolts blow through the estuaries rapidly as they head toward the ocean.
I would be curious to know what informs your skepticism about the figure.I'd bet every dollar I have in the bank and every dollar I have yet to earn there were more than 178 spawners. While the run was undoubtedly bad, even relative to recent years, that number is implausibly low, and if anything, is a testament to the utter incompetence in wild population monitoring that is on full display in some parts of this state.
Shouldn’t the large estuary projects going on now have a positive impact at some point
And to what extent?
I often wonder, with all the habitat restoration that is ongoing, both estuary and inland, if we are even keeping up with the ongoing degradation, let alone having a positive net impact on future returns.Shouldn’t the large estuary projects going on now have a positive impact at some point
And to what extent?
Yes there has been lots of activity on the habitat restoration front and the fish are telling us how successful those efforts have been. In spite of those efforts and significant gains in the harvest and hatchery areas the focus species; steelhead and Chinook are continuing to decline.
For decades the Skykomish/Snohomish wild steelhead were one of the Puget Sound stalwarts and represented a major hope for the future of the species in the region. PS steelhead are victims of a double whammy. With their extend freshwater rearing history (generally two years) they are highly dependent on the freshwater habitat to provide a variety of complex niches to produce smolts. Any compromise in those complex habitat needs translates to fewer smolts. With their extended freshwater rearing steelhead have always been sensitive and limited by the quality of their freshwater habitats. However their overall survival (egg to spawning adult) was balanced with increased marine survival due the large smolt size. That strategy now has taken a major high; essential Puget Sound itself has become lethal for steelhead. The longer a steelhead smolt spends in Puget Sound the more likely it will die.
The nuances of these issues have been discussed at length in other threads on this site and don't know if there is value in re-visiting them here.
Take away the welfare system and few things will begin to die off.Many years ago on the N/F Stilly. They released a shit pot of Smolts in the river up around Fortson ponds. They were all about 6" to 10" in length. They were fun to catch for a while but after about 2 to 3 weeks in the River that all started to just die off. Since Salmo_g or Smalma used to do samples on that river, I thought that he/they would know the reason for them dying off.
Correlation isn't causation, but if you did a least squares regression plotting the collapse of the forage fish vs the seal/sea-lion population I suspect that you'd get a reasonably tight fit. You could probably also plot cubic yards of beauty bark or cases of disposable diapers sold in Washington state and get an equally tight fit, but I can't help but wonder if the pinniped population rising to levels that probably equal or exceed those existing at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition isn't having a significant impact on anything that's edible in the Puget Sound.Jay -
There are serious issues with the Puget Sound ecosystem; it looks to be moving towards collapse. It is believed that harbor seals are the major predation vector thought that is compounded by dramatic changes in the seals forage base. Historically hake, pollock, and true cod were major forage fish (with a variety of other forage such as herring). The true cod have essentially disappeared and there have been major population changes in the hake, pollock and herring populations. The older fish in those populations have essentially disappear (for example the natural mortality rates for PS herring have doubled in recent decades resulting in few fish living beyond age 5 (historically live to age 8/9 - the horse herring of years gone by). Both the hake and pollock are maturing as much smaller sizes with few fish living beyond that first spawning. The result is a likely reduction in forage biomass that consist all most entirely of fish are similar to or smaller in size as the steelhead smolts. It is hard to know whether the steelhead smolts are being targeted or being taken incidentally. Some research indicates it may the later but it really doesn't make any difference.
Hisotrically (say in the 1980s) Puget Sound survived at about 1/2 of the rate of those on the coast. Today it is much worst. The coho situation may also be of interest; some 40 years ago Puget Sound was a haven for coho with ocean survivals that often were 4t o 5 times higher than those on the coast. Recently the survivals between the coast and PS are about equal - the PS have declined much more sharply than the coastal fish. With both the steelhead and coho Puget Sound survivals first declined in the deep south sound and over time spread north.
I've always been curious if the returns in the 70s and 80s were due to seal numbers and hid other issues.JayB,
Harbor seals do appear to be the number one smolt predator in PS based on acoustic tag studies of the last few years. Sea lions and other marine mammals are predators as well, but the harbor seal population in PS has grown from about 6,000 in the 1970s to over 60,000 at present.
Based on limited work by WDFW regarding Chinook salmon smolt predation by harbor seals, it would require a population reduction of 50% of the seals to really make a meaningful difference in PS Chinook smolt to adult survival. I imagine it would take the same for steelhead. The reason is that salmonids are a very small part of harbor seal diet, but with so many seals preying on salmonids, that small percentage adds up to a significant percent of the smolt poplations, especially from south PS.