Swinomish Tribe and others sue Army Corp over lack of eelgrass protections

Somehow this lawsuit slipped my review. It came out in late April and adds to the growing group of lawsuits seeking to protect yet another of Puget Sound’s key habitat, eelgrass.  As the suit states: “Native eelgrass beds serve as nurseries, cover,and feeding grounds for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Dungeness crabs, and other aquatic species.”

You may have seen the “No anchor zones” in Port Townsend Bay that are there to help boaters avoid damaging these fragile underwater forests.

The Swinomish Tribe, along with Earth Justice and others, challenges the Army Corp of Engineers and it’s  Nationwide Permit 48,( NWP 48) which came out last year. NWP48 authorizes large-scale commercial shellfish aquaculture without mandatory avoidance or minimization measures to protect eelgrass.

From the lawsuit filing: The Corps’ first nationwide permit covering shellfish aquaculture issued in 2007 applied only to active commercial shellfish operations which had a state or local permit. As reissued in 2017, NWP 48 reaches beyond active commercial shellfish operations to cover any area that was used for commercial shellfish aquaculture at any time within the last 100 years. This definition extends into “continuing fallow” areas, which are areas that previously had shellfish operations at some time, but not since 2007 when the first NWP 48 was issued. NWP 48 contains measures requiring avoidance of eelgrass beds in “new” operations that have never been cultivated, but makes those mandatory avoidance measures inapplicable to eelgrass beds in continuing fallow areas. In North Puget Sound, thousands of acres of so-called continuing fallow areas have mature eelgrass beds, yet NWP 48’s mandatory avoidance measures are not applicable to these fallow areas.

Throughout the development of NWP 48, the Tribe urged the Corps to adopt
avoidance and minimization measures to protect eelgrass. The Corps considered various avoidance and minimization measures, such as extending the same protection afforded for new shellfish operations to eelgrass in continuing fallow areas or limiting the shellfish aquaculture methods that may be used on eelgrass beds to those that minimize damage to the eelgrass. In the end, however, the Corps adopted NWP 48 without any avoidance and minimization measures to protect eelgrass. It left the development of such protective measures to the discretion of the
Corps’ district engineer when reviewing specific projects to verify whether they comply with NWP 48.

This case challenges the application and implementation of NWP 48 in North
Puget Sound in areas with eelgrass beds for violating three laws and their implementing regulations.

Follow this link to the Corps complaint. It’s 31 pages long.

Swinomish lawsuit against Corps 3522 1 Complaint

New Puget Sound herring research – Puget Sound Institute

A good article to help you with understanding the role of forage fish in our Puget Sound environment. While I have your interest in this, as the Board President of Sound Action, I would be remiss in not mentioning that our little non-profit exists to monitor the granting of Hydraulic permits (HPA) by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. (WDFW). We challenge them if necessary. Each year we review more than 500 permits and file dozens of appeals, with most having a positive resolution. You can find more on our work at http://www.soundaction.org. But now for the rest of the story.

Herring may not be the most charismatic species in Puget Sound. They don’t breach dramatically out of the water. Fish mongers don’t throw them through the air at Pike Place Market. They find their strength in numbers, schooling around by the thousands and serving as food for other creatures like seabirds, salmon and seals. But if it weren’t for these small, unsung fish, the Salish Sea might be a very different place. Herring and other so-called forage fish — named for their role as important food (forage) for other species — are foundational to the Salish Sea food web. They are so critical that the Puget Sound Partnership has identified them as a ‘Vital Sign’ for the health of the ecosystem. And that is why many scientists are worried. Some populations of Puget Sound herring are in dangerous decline. There are also major gaps in our knowledge of their ecology and life history. (Puget Sound Institute)


State of the bait: Study yields insight on tiny fish – AP via KIRO.TV

Forage fish are one of the foundational species in Puget Sound and the wider Salish Sea. Their importance to the food chain has only recently been more clearly understood. One reason for adding  more protection to beaches and the nearshore in updates to the Shoreline Master Programs, have been to look at protecting habitat used by these food sources for salmon and other fish as well as birds. Here’s a good short update on State efforts. Additionally to this, some of the Marine Resource Committees of the north Sound have been working on these efforts to protect forage fish, and educate the public to their importance.

Josh Frederick hops out of an idling state Department of Fish and Wildlife motorboat and begins scooping beach gravel into bag labeled with his precise location on Hood Canal. He pulls out a handful and gives it a hard look. “Nothing,” he says. Spotting the tiny, pen point-sized eggs of Puget Sound’s smallest fish isn’t easy, but this stretch of Misery Point has just about everything that spawning herring, smelt and other forage fish could want: shade from trees, few nearby homes, no bulkheads and a beach covered in the not-too-fine, not-too-gritty sediment they favor for tucking in their unhatched young…. Finding few eggs in ideal spawning grounds could be part of the mounting evidence that the sound’s forage fish are in decline. That’s bad news for salmon, seabirds and just about every marine animal bigger than the bait-sized fish. Tristan Baurick reports. (AP)


Forage fish study gets state’s full backing – Kitsap Sun


Beachwatchers photo

Glad to hear that the legislature was able to fund this much needed study.

The largest study of Puget Sound’s smallest fish received full funding in the new state budget….the study will take a close look at the sound’s populations of herring, smelt, sand lance and other forage fish that serve as prey for larger predators, including salmon, sea birds and marine mammals. The final budget put $1.9 million toward the study, allowing for both a nearshore survey of spawning grounds and a trawl survey in open water to gauge the survival rate of adult forage fish. Tristan Baurick reports. (Kitsap Sun) Subscription required to read this article. Support your local newspaper, subscribe to the Kitsap Sun.


Action Taken To Protect Fish At Bottom Of Ocean Food Chain – Earthfix

As discussed in yesterday’s post, there has been a new rule under development to protect forage fish. These fish are critical to the rest of the ocean ecosystem. The west coast fisheries managers appear to have done the right thing.

West Coast fishery managers adopted a new rule Tuesday that protects many species of forage fish at the bottom of the ocean food chain. The rule prohibits commercial fishing of herring, smelt, squid and other small fish that aren’t currently targeted by fishermen. It sets up new, more protective regulations for anyone who might want to start fishing for those species in the future. The Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to adopt the rule at a meeting in Vancouver, Washington. The council sets ocean fishing seasons off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Cassandra Profita reports. (EarthFix)


West Coast fishery managers days away from landmark decision on forage fish – Oregonian

Forage fish are the basis of the much of the food source for a huge variety of species, from salmon, sea birds and many other creatures. Moving into harvesting this species could put the final nail in the coffin of the fisheries on the west coast. Seabirds are already dying in the tens of thousands now off the coast, due to lack of food. Killing off the rest of their food source seems like stupid thinking, which is in abundance these days.

West coast fishery managers are poised to make a decision next week that could alter the future of fishing in federal waters off the Pacific Coast, as well as in Oregon’s state-regulated nearshore waters. The Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal to restrict new forage fisheries off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington unless prospective fishermen can prove harvesting a new species would not damage the ecosystem. Kelly House reports. (Oregonian)


Proposal wants big study for Puget Sound’s little fish – KOMO news

While this Senate bill is a great idea, I don’t see a companion House bill  (see comment below, apparently there is), I assume that this will not survive the session. It also has no bi-partisan supporters. Maybe it’s a ‘stake in the ground’ kind of proposal, to try and pave the way for a full House and Senate set of bills in the next session in 2016.

Puget Sound’s little fish – the kind that school together near the shore – don’t have the celebrity status of salmon or orcas. But as the populations of herring, smelt and other forage fish dwindle, so too may the sound’s more iconic species. A bill by state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, aims to improve what state regulators readily admit is a poor understanding of the small fish that serve as prey for the sound’s larger predators…. Senate Bill 5166 would initiate the most comprehensive study of forage fish ever undertaken in Puget Sound. It would also require a recreational fishing license for smelt, a species typically caught with dip nets near the shore…. Sound Action, the Coastal Conservation Association and the National Audubon Society’s Washington chapter are among the environmental groups that have spoken in favor of the bill. Tristan Baurick reports. (Kitsap Sun) If you like to watch: Sound Action – Forage Fish Matter https://vimeo.com/113797219


Forage Fish Matter – Video

Forage fish are the backbone of a healthy Puget Sound. They provide the food base for endangered chinook which in turn are relied on by the endangered Southern Resident Orcas. Little Fish + Big Fish = Orca. Laura James produced this piece for Sound Action.

Forage Fish Matter http://vimeo.com/113797219

Protect forage fish, cornerstone of our ocean’s food web – Seattle Times

Amen to this…


Pew Trust’s Paul Shively opines that, while salmon may be iconic, we must not forget to protect the health and numbers of the cornerstone of our ocean’s food web — namely, the less-well-known forage fish.