In WSU Stormwater Runoff Research, Coho Salmon Die Quickly,Chum Survive

More data that shows how complicated the salmon recovery effort is.

On April 20, 2018, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife News Bulletin reported that Washington State University (WSU) scientists discovered that different species of salmon have varying reactions to polluted stormwater runoff.

In a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Pollution, scientists found that coho salmon became mortally ill within just a few hours of exposure to polluted stormwater. But chum salmon showed no signs of ill- effects after prolonged exposure to the same water.

The study can be found at

“It really surprised us,” said Jen McIntyre, an assistant professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. “Not that the coho were affected so quickly, but how resistant the chum were. We saw no impact at all in the chum’s post-exposure blood work.”

Stormwater is toxic to fish because it can include carcinogenic hydrocarbons, metals, and other organic compounds, most of which have yet to be identified.

McIntyre and her team collected stormwater runoff in large tanks from a highway in western Washington. Then they placed salmon in that water for four hours or until the fish showed signs of illness. Blood samples were then taken from all of the fish.

Only a few coho lasted four hours before having to be removed. In blood tests, the team found a significant increase in lactic acid concentrations and their blood was much thicker. Their blood pH was thrown off and the amount of salt in their plasma decreased significantly.

The chum test results showed none of those changes, all these fish lasting the full four hours without showing any signs of distress or sickness.


“These fish are very closely related,” said McIntyre, who works at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center. “They’re the same genus, but obviously something is significantly different physiologically. We just don’t know what that difference is yet.”

The study was done at the Suquamish Tribe Grovers Creek Salmon Hatchery, with fish donated by the Suquamish Tribe.

McIntyre worked on the project with fellow WSU scientists, along with colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

McIntyre and her team noticed a few clues for where to start their next round of investigations: studying what makes the chum nearly impervious to toxic runoff. One is that the coho appeared hypoxic, meaning they weren’t getting enough oxygen. But the water had plenty of oxygen, so they’ll look at blood circulation issues, how the fish metabolize oxygen in their muscles, and a few other areas.

“We don’t know if the thicker blood is a symptom of the problem, or if that’s the initiating event that then causes the oxygen deprivation,” McIntyre said. “There’s a lot of work still to come, but this really narrows down where we need to look.”

They’re also hoping that looking further into chum will turn up clues about how they resist the effects of toxic runoff.

In a later study, not included in this paper, McIntyre and her team conducted a prolonged exposure test on chum. Those fish swam in the stormwater runoff for four days and none of them got sick.

“We’re still trying to understand how they’re unaffected,” she said. “It’s actually really impressive.”

Another problem for the coho is that scientists don’t know what particular contaminants in the runoff are causing the problems.

“There’s a whole variety of heavy metals and hydrocarbons in that water,” McIntyre said. “And a whole bunch of chemicals we are working with scientists at the University of Washington in Tacoma to identify so that we can protect more delicate species like coho salmon from the effects of human pollution.”

McIntyre’s research is part of a grant from EPA.

For more information, Jen McIntyre can be reached at




Chef Renee Erickson pulls king salmon from menu after learning of starving orcas – KUOW

It seems there is something happening, right now. I called for looking into a moratorium on chinook harvest in the Salish Sea and just off the coast, and now (totally separate from my article) Canadian environmentalists and a restaurant in Seattle are also calling for a  halt for the demand for Salish Sea chinook. I’m reaching out to a Seattle fisheries expert who claims it won’t matter. We’ll see if he has time to help me and you understand why.  More to follow.

A Seattle restaurateur has stopped offering chinook salmon at her restaurants. Renee Erickson, chef and owner of a group of restaurants, including The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard, said she made the decision after learning about the plight of J50, the young, ailing orca whale.







Port of Port Townsend aims to develop joint request to help orcas – PDN

Port Commissioners across the North Sound, led by our three Jefferson County Commissioners, have decided to weigh in to the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force. But their comments make one wonder where is the science that comes into  their personal opinions and assumptions on what’s needed.

I have tracked the decline of the Orcas in this blog for over 10 years. I have never heard scientists arguing on the points that Commissioner and whale watch boat captain Pete Hanke, was quoted on in The PDN. Let’s look at his comment.

“Turn the hatcheries on, go full bore, get a lot of fish in the water,”he aid. “Why not? It’s not going to hurt anything. The idea of keeping this native thing going is short-sighted. There’s a lot of science out there that questions whether the [southern resident orcas] will survive at any rate.” Hanke also said that he believes the Fraser River to be of the most polluted rivers in the region. The salmon coming out of the river are quite high in PCBs and contribute a lot of damage to the [southern resident orcas],” Hanke said. “So saying we want to get more fish out of the Fraser River doesn’t really solve the problem.

For a man who is in charge of helping determine the effective use of tax dollars in a local port, it’s a remarkably odd statement. The Port has itself wrapped around the axle on finding the funds to replace an aging breakwater, Pete has not shown any great ideas to the community about how this is going to get funded, and the Port’s leader, Sam Gibbony just resigned, with no explanation. So what about Pete’s comments?

Hatcheries already are doing their job for decades and haven’t been contributing near enough. We spent about $3M last year with virtually no science to show that it’s been of enormous help. There is also no science saying that by miraculously expanding hatchery output (even if we could do it quickly) that we will save the Orca.

According to the State of Washington Fish and Wildlife web site “During the 2018 legislative session, WDFW and other state agencies were provided about $3 million to support new and ongoing orca recovery efforts, such as reducing the presence of toxic contaminants in Puget Sound, and increasing hatchery production of Chinook salmon and other prey species.”

Reducing toxins in the water takes decades to see significant results. Pete’s comment that the “salmon coming out of the Fraser are quite high in PCBs…” is the first I’ve heard of this issue. Rather than saying that the US should be doing something, he pushes the problem to Canada, where we have little or no influence. However, a 2018 study from the WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife pointed out that , contrary to Pete’s assumption, that 98% of PCBs are accumulated by the fish in salt water, not fresh water, such as the Duwamish or Frasier. “The amount of PCBs in adult salmon that is acquired in the freshwater environment, including hatcheries, varies from approximately 1% in undeveloped rivers to 4% in developed river where out-migrating juvenile fish acquire more PCBs. Hatchery feed is estimated to contribute a maximum of 1% of the PCBs measured in adult Chinook from Puget Sound that originated in hatcheries.” Read the whole report on PCBs in salmon here:

However, the science does not support the notion that the hatcheries  are adding significantly to the food the Orca eat, which scat samples from scientists show to be Chinook from the Frasier and Columbia rivers, which find their way to the Salish Sea. The most effective way to quickly raise the number of fish available for the Orca, would be to stop*all* fishing in the Strait and the Sound, as the Canadians did on June 1 in the Gulf Islands. Perhaps a moratorium on catching any Chinook for ten years would be a good start. I’ve heard this thought supported by any number of old time fishermen. Would the Tribes be on board? Not likely from the tribal members I’ve heard quoted in the news.

No word is mentioned as to whether the Port supports breaching the lower Snake River dams, which many scientists believe will add significant amounts of salmon into the system quickly. Want to know why some scientists are supporting doing this? Read the information at this web site to start.

It states:

An extensive modeling effort completed in 2000 analyzed of the causes of mortality for Snake River salmon. The model demonstrated that the four lower Snake River dams were the most significant factor preventing recovery. The cumulative effect of eight dams on the lower Columbia and lower Snake Rivers is too much for salmon survival and if the four dams on the lower Snake were removed (cutting the total number of dams Snake River stocks face in half), these salmon can rebound to healthy levels.

More recent studies also show that populations of other Columbia Basin salmon that migrate through four or less dams and reservoirs, such as those from the Yakima and John Day rivers are performing significantly better than those from the Snake river. Those populations, like the Snake, also encounter mortality as a result of habitat destruction, harvest, hatcheries, predators and ocean conditions, but they are not imperiled. The difference lies in the number of mainstem dams they encounter. A key benefit for Snake River populations is the amount of high quality habitat they have that is not found in the other Columbia basins.

One of the main people doing scientific research into saving the Orca is Ken Balcomb. He recently addressed the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) Recovery and Task Force and posted to Facebook a message that included the following statement:

“…The human population and its appetites are growing too fast in the region to keep up with the clean-up. My analysis of the potential food resources for the SRKW led me to the Snake/Columbia salmon stocks as the only saving possibility within US and State of Washington jurisdiction…The basic biology and ecology of these amazing animals is fascinating, and their habits belie your  (Senator Kevin Ranker’s) hypothesis that a vessel regulatory approach will “save these incredible creatures.”

They will travel to wherever the food is most available, and by their absence they are illustrating that the food is not sufficiently available in San Juan County anymore. Nor in the Salish Sea. We all remember the heyday of fishing and the weeks-on-end of superpods, but those days are over throughout their foraging range.”

His web site states:

The larger environmental question reflected in the J35 story is that both the USA and Canada MUST redouble efforts to restore wild (emphasis mine) salmon (particularly Chinook) throughout Washington State and British Columbia for a food supply for the SRKW in this region.

On June 1st the Canadian government took drastic action.

“…the Government of Canada is imposing fishery management measures to reduce the total harvest for Chinook salmon by 25-35 percent. These measures include closures that will help increase the availability of this critical food source for Southern Resident killer whales.

The closures will take place in three key foraging (feeding) areas: Strait of Juan de Fuca, Gulf Islands and the mouth of the Fraser River.

These measures will be implemented for the 2018 salmon fishing season, with monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the closures.”

Ken believes we have only about five more years of breeding before the population is unable to support itself going forward. A ban for 5 to 10 years on all take of Chinook can immediately start to rectify the problem.


Another area of concern is our ongoing destruction of the shorelines where forage fish, another favorite food of salmon, spawn. Sound Action (I am Board President of Sound Action)  has stated,

In Washington State, our primary law governing nearshore habitat protection is called the Hydraulic Code, and any in-water development work requires a permit called an HPA which is under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in the WDFW administration of the law with the department approving every permit, regardless of scale or impact. Similarly, issued permits are commonly missing important environmental regulations developed to protect fish life and habitat.

Multiple parties, including environmental groups, public agency employees and the Northwest Treaty Tribes have all raised concerns related to habitat loss as a result of WDFW administration of the HPA permit program. Even WDFW has documented this issue with internal program evaluation finding only a small portion of HPAs reviewed were appropriately protecting important ecosystem functions.

This means that nearshore habitat is lost every day with each new dock, bulkhead, marina, dredging operation or export facility permit issued without appropriate environmental regulations. Eelgrass beds that were once vast ribbons of green are shaded out until they’re gone. Forage fish spawning grounds are decimated. Important sedimentation processes that nourish beaches and give them life are choked off.

So just properly implementing our existing regulations would also have an impact.

Outside the jurisdiction of these permits is the ongoing conversion of shoreline habitat to commercial geoduck farms. Thousands of acres have been converted to mono-culture permanent farms for Chinese buyers since 2000.  Over 98% of the harvest is sent there. No one in government has seriously talked about when enough is enough. The question to be asked is, “When will say that we have reached carrying capacity for converting our wild shorelines to industrial geoduck farms? How much is enough?”  

I have not even addressed the issue of pollution runoff from our roads. To fix that  known problem (recent scientific studies at the UW have shown 100% death rates on salmon exposed to rain runoff from roads like 520), would take far more money and time than the Orca have left. At least we can start that though sooner than later.

Are we serious about making the enormously unpopular and painful changes we need to save the Orca? While I have no doubt that Commissioner Hanke, who makes his living running a whale watch business is serious about wanting to save the Orca, jumping to poorly considered assumptions is just condemning them to an even faster end.


Harbour seals are easy scapegoats in Chinook salmon decline – Vancouver Sun

Once again, the knee jerk reaction to ‘solving’ a problem is balanced by the scientists who actually study the problem. There has been a call for culling harbour seals, with ‘everyone’ knowing that they see a lot of them and they are eating a lot of salmon, apparently. Well, here’s the alternative point of view, rather than fake news.

It’s partly out of concern for the latter sparking recent calls for a cull of harbour seals, with those in favour citing a recent explosion in the seal population as principal cause of the decline of Chinook salmon. “Explosion?” Yikes. This is serious, and we had better respond. But, hold on a minute — there has been virtually no change in seal numbers in B.C. in more than 20 years. But for the whales — which face additional threats that include vessel strikes, pollution, underwater noise, and a shrinking gene pool — the problem is, as usual, us humans.

Dr. Peter Ross is the vice-president of research, and Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard is director of the Cetacean Research Program at Ocean Wise.

Read the whole story at:

Opinion: Harbour seals are easy scapegoats in Chinook salmon decline

Support your local newspaper, no matter how lame it is. Blogs don’t replace reporters who are paid a living wage to take the time to get the news and boil it down to something we can understand. Fight those that constantly refer to the press as the ‘enemy of the people’ and ‘fake news’. Those voices are demagogues who are only working to promote their own point of view to their own profit.


Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run – Watching our Waterways

Good early results from a new hatchery on the Skokomish river. The survival rates of hatchery raised fish have been questioned by groups like Long Live the Kings, in long running surveys comparing the success of wild fish in the Rogue River in Oregon vs. the Skagit River hatchery raised fish. But it’s still one of the only options left as we destroy our climate with fossil fuel use and the long term effects of a variety of human caused problems. We certainly wish them luck!

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

Read the whole story here;


U.S. Supreme Court Justices Skeptical of WA State over culvert replacement – KNKX

Supreme Court justices skeptical of Washington state over salmon habitat
The Supreme Court seems unlikely to allow Washington state to get out from under a court order to restore salmon habitat by removing barriers that block fish migration. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a long-running dispute that pits the state against Indian tribes and the federal government. At issue is whether Washington state must fix or replace hundreds of culverts. Those are large pipes that allow streams to pass beneath roads but can block migrating salmon if they become clogged or if they’re too steep to navigate. See also: U.S. Supreme Court justices raise questions about culvert damage   Chris Dunagan writes. (Watching Our Water Ways) And also: State And Feds Battle In Supreme Court Over How To Fix Culverts  Bellamy Pailthorp reports. (KNKX)

New ways of fishing could better protect endangered salmon – Watching Our Waterways

Another good idea to explore for saving salmon.  Could be used in some trial scenarios. From many non-native fishermen I’ve talked to, the issue for them will likely be management of the native part of the take. There is a wide spread perception that the tribal take is not well managed and that they get to take more with less oversight, while the non-native fisherman is overburdened with regulations and enforcement. It’s been expressed to me that all many fishermen want is equal balance to the catch. While I’ve done a lot of looking into this issue and do not feel that the non-native perspective is accurate, the state and tribes might want to do a better job of PR to the non native community to help explain how it’s done.

Higher standards of “sustainability” for salmon — recently developed by the Wild Fish Conservancy — are designed to put salmon on people’s tables with virtually no impact on depleted salmon runs. The new standards, which could become part of a certification program, are built upon the concept that fishing should take place closer to streams with abundant runs of salmon. The standards call for fishing methods that can take a portion of the fish from the abundant runs while allowing fish from depleted runs to pass on by and spawn naturally. Chris Dunagan reports. (Watching Our Water Ways

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