Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Measuring Survival of Salmon Produced at Federal Hatcheries

We are often interested in determining if salmon grown and released at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery survive in the ocean better than salmon from other hatcheries. Likewise, we need to determine how many hatchery fish are caught in commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries that occur in the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. In order to do this, we sample the fall Chinook, winter steelhead and coho salmon when they return to Makah, Quilcene and Quinault National Fish Hatcheries to detect how many contain a tag made from a small piece of wire.

Dissecting salmon snout
These tags are inserted into the noses of thousands of baby salmon each year before we release them from the hatcheries. Each tag has a 6-digit number that identifies each group of fish that we are responsible for monitoring. When the fish are released from the hatchery, we enter the tag number into a database along with information about where and when these fish are released. When the fish return to the hatchery 2 to 6 years later, the adult fish are put through a metal detector to check for a tag. If a tag is present, the fish is measured and the head is taken back to our lab. 

Back at the lab, we dissect the tag from the salmon’s snout and read the number with a microscope. The tag numbers are then entered into the same database along with other biological information we collect. State and tribal agencies similarly enter the tag numbers they detect in adult salmon caught in fisheries taking place in the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. At the end of the year, we summarize information in this database to evaluate the success of each U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery and its ability to produce enough fish for the many anglers who rely, in part, on hatchery fish for tribal culture, commercial interest, and recreation.

Here are two short videos showing how we process the salmon heads to recover the tags:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Salmon Supplementation Program

Our office, along with King County and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), has been working to restore the Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon population. This population once numbered in the thousands, but recent adult returns have been less than 100 fish. Currently, kokanee primarily spawn in three small tributaries: Laughing Jacobs Creek, Ebright Creek, and Lewis Creek.

Ebright Creek
One major component of the recovery effort is a supplementation program to improve survival rates from the egg stage to the fry stage. Adult kokanee will be spawned at the Issaquah State Fish Hatchery (SFH). Half of the eggs will be incubated at Issaquah SFH and half will be taken to Quilcene National Fish Hatchery where they will be reared to the “eyed-egg” stage of their life. After all eggs have reached the eyed-egg stage, they will be placed in experimental rearing systems at Issaquah SFH.  Each experimental rearing system will use water taken from their natal stream to provide adequate imprinting. Shortly after the kokanee fry have emerged from their eggs, WDFW and King County staff will then plant the kokanee fry back into their natal creek.

We began this year’s supplementation effort last week. King County and WDFW field crews looked for fish in the three spawning creeks. During the first week, crews captured 6 males and 1 female in Ebright Creek.  The female was successfully spawned with 2 of the males; the other males were saved for later spawning.  This week (week 2), an additional 6 females and 8 males were collected from Ebright Creek and 1 female and 2 males from Laughing Jacobs Creek; all fish were successfully spawned. Over the next 2 months, the crews will be collecting adults once or twice each week.

Female kokanee salmon

Male kokanee salmon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elwha River Weir

An adult fish trap, termed a resistance board weir, was installed in the Elwha River in September 2010 to begin counting adult salmon, trout, and char migrating upstream and downstream in the Elwha River. The weir is part of a multi-agency effort, which includes the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Olympic National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), to monitor the influence of removing two Elwha River hydroelectric dams on salmon and steelhead returns to the Elwha River ecosystem. The goal of the project is to count migrating adult salmon and steelhead to determine if run sizes increase in the Elwha River following dam removal. A portion of the adult salmon captured at the weir will also be used as broodstock for hatchery production and conservation.  Hatcheries will be used for Chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, pink salmon, and steelhead as a safeguard to protect Elwha River salmon runs during dam removal, which is expected to result in short-term sediment concentrations that may kill adult salmon. In addition, information will be obtained from the weir to determine when different species of adult salmon enter the river, their age, and genetic makeup.

Adult trap (resistance board weir) in the Elwha River
At 195 feet across, the Elwha weir is thought to be the largest floating weir on the WestCcoast. The weir consists of 52 floating panels connected to a substrate rail. The substrate rail is comprised of 10-foot sections of 3-inch angle iron which are bolted together and secured to the streambed using rebar stakes. The floating panels block fish migration and direct the fish to one of four trap boxes; these boxes can be placed in different positions as needed. There are currently three upstream trap boxes---two on one side of the river and one on the opposite bank. There is also one downstream trap box. Now that the substrate rail is in place, the weir can be installed in approximately 2 days and removed in only a few hours.

The new Elwha weir fished for 30 days in 2010 and captured a total of 492 adult salmon and trout, representing eight different species, including Chinook, pink, chum, coho, and sockeye salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and bull trout. Chinook salmon were captured in the greatest number---461 individuals. Pink salmon were the next most common species captured with 12 individuals.  Although the weir was pulled prior to the peak of the coho and chum salmon runs, both species were captured. In addition, summer-run and/or early returning winter-run steelhead were captured.  The capture of pink salmon surprised us, since pinks generally return to Puget Sound rivers only during odd years (2009, 2007, etc.). They have, however, become more common during even years over the last decade.
The weir fishing at 2,200 cfs
The weir is planned to fish a majority of the time during the summer and early fall, when Chinook and pink salmon are migrating into the Elwha River. However, it is expected to fish only part-time during late fall through spring when storms and/or snow melt result in high water in the river. The weir fished successfully during flows of 2,200 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late summer (500 cfs is the normal low flow during summer). This was encouraging, since the weir was predicted to be able to fish up to about 2,000 cfs. 

The weir is planned to be re-installed in early 2011 to direct adult steelhead to the river margins where they will be counted using SONAR. The trap boxes will be installed in late winter or early spring to trap adult steelhead. The weir will be removed again during the spring snow melt and then reinstalled with traps as flows begin to decrease in early summer.

This project was funded in part by funds provided to the cooperating agencies as part of their annual budget.  Additional funds were obtained through the President’s stimulus program (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). The project is currently funded through September 30, 2012.

Here are some of the fish captured by the weir:

Chinook salmon
Coho salmon

Chum salmon

Pink salmon

Sockeye salmon

Bull trout

Cutthroat trout

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Life Aquatic - Part 4

My summer as a USFWS STEP employee proved to be an amazing experience! I was given the opportunity to work on multiple field and public outreach projects, job-shadow biologists and technicians, and gain important on-the-job experiences. In addition, this position enabled me to earn my final upper division sciences credits via independent study with The Evergreen State College. With my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Stream Ecology under my belt, as well as my newly updated resume, I am now in a great position to compete for future employment opportunities in conservation science.

Since my STEP position with the Washington Fish & Wildlife Office Fisheries Division (USFWS), I have been exploring work opportunities in fisheries, forestry, and plants, as well as public education and outreach work. With more work experience, I plan to develop existing skills, gain new experience, and explore potential areas of focus for a master’s project. The sky is the limit as I have the flexibility to move to different places in order to achieve these goals. In addition to looking for employment, I have been making myself available as a volunteer to the USFWS and the local Stream Team. The Chehalis Watershed Festival, for example, was a great volunteer experience as it allowed me to give back to the USFWS and the community while further honing my outreach skills.

My long-term goal will be to pursue a Master’s of Science degree focused on ecological conservation and restoration. This degree will be the culmination of my training toward becoming a professional biologist. My STEP position was an important stage in this journey and I feel that from the knowledge and experiences gained, I am ready for my future educational and career pursuits.