In 2010 I worked on a video for the Puget Sound Partnership called, “Voices of the Strait”. In that video I interviewed old timers from all over the Peninsula, and asked them about their experiences and changes in the environment. Off camera, I happened to meet one old fisherman, a man who had fished here for his whole life, and was in his 80s. We got to talking over coffee about the Hood Canal problems, and he had an interesting thing to tell me.
“It’s my opinion,” he said, “that ever since the Hood Canal Floating Bridge went in, we have seen a collapse of fish stocks and water quality down there. None of this ever seemed to be a problem before that. I bet the bridge is the cause of it all.”
I remember that conversation clearly, but didn’t ask him to be on camera, because it was, as we say, more of a hypothesis than a proof. You could insert many other hypothesis’ and be just as likely to be right, given a lack of data.
Now, it appears the old timer may have been correct in his observations. At a meeting of restoration recovery organizations held in Port Townsend, Scott Brewer, the head of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, stood up and validated what the old timer had said. Brewer said that preliminary research has shown, especially with steelhead, that the bridge might be stopping the fish from moving out to sea. Radio tagged fry have been seen swimming up to the bridge and are unable to figure out how to get around it. They appear to pool against the bridge, which is 30 feet deep, and get picked off by seals or sea lions. The fry tend to stay on the surface layer of the water, so are stymied by the blockage. Additionally, the bridge may be affecting tidal water exchange.
This poses an interesting problem. Obviously, if accurate, short term fixes might look something like fish ladders or perhaps some kind of underwater fence that could direct the fish towards one end or the other. But longer term, if the bridge is the problem, the question of replacing the bridge will have to be raised. The health of an entire ecosystem might be at stake.
While all this is preliminary and speculative, we’ll keep an eye on this issue and report back as we get more data. But it’s worth remembering that most of the major and minor fundamental scientific advancements, up to the 20th century, were usually amateur local scientists, relying on observation, and hypothesis based on that knowledge of local systems from living there. It’s well worth keeping an open mind to even the oddest possible root causes. The notion that we can throw down a bridge and have it not affect the body of water it lies on is something that most bridge planners probably never anticipated. And the findings also point out that the revolution in miniaturization of computer and GPS tracking, will have profound effects on our ability to better understand natural processes.
Filed under: Puget Sound | Tagged: hood canal, steelhead | 2 Comments »