Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Bursting Back into the Streams

Kokanee salmon in Ebright Creek
This season’s kokanee salmon are off to an early and exciting start at Lake Sammamish. After a late and very dry summer in western Washington, the spawning streams were down to a trickle and rain seemed like a distant memory. But when the rain finally returned in late October, the kokanee in the lake began their short journey upstream to spawn. Right now you can see hundreds of these bright red and green fish in Ebright Creek, Laughing Jacobs Creek, Tibbetts Creek, Lewis Creek, Pine Lake Creek, and perhaps other creeks surrounding Lake Sammamish. These land-locked salmon are swimming under roads, through yards, and into neighborhoods and parks to find the perfect spot to deposit their eggs. These fish are living in urban landscapes unfamiliar to their ancestors and the number of fish today is drastically reduced from historic levels. This decline prompted biologists, local governments, and individuals working and living in the area to combine forces to bring back the kokanee and provide evidence of a future where people and wild fish thrive together.

Kokanee salmon swimming up Ebright Creek
This year’s return is highly anticipated because it marks the first time both fish from the hatchery supplementation program and the natural lake population will return to spawn in tandem. The hatchery supplementation program, based at WDFW's Issaquah Creek Hatchery, boosts the numbers of kokanee in the lake by "head-starting" baby kokanee in the safety of the hatchery. This year we hope to see an increase in kokanee returning to and spawning in streams as a result of the supplementation program.

Female and male kokanee salmon looking
for the perfect place to spawn

Through all of this excitement, we and our partners in the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group continue to monitor kokanee numbers, collect a small number of wild fish for the supplementation program, and sample for genetics and health of kokanee in several Lake Sammamish streams. Careful planning and scientific methods are crucial to habitat conservation efforts--the ultimate tool for ensuring a bright future for Lake Sammamish kokanee.

USFWS biologists work their way up
Laughing Jacobs Creek looking for kokanee salmon

To learn more about the Lake Sammamish kokanee, watch these USFWS videos:


Check out our Flickr page for some great photos of Lake Sammamish kokanee. And take a peek into your local creeks and see what fish are calling it home. You might just find a kokanee.

To report kokanee sightings, give us a call at (360) 753-9440 or click on "Contact Us" on our web page to send an email.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Juvenile Pacific Lamprey in Puget Sound Streams

Pacific lamprey (Photo: R. Tabor)
Pacific lamprey
Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) are native to the Pacific Ocean and are a vital component of native fish communities. They are also used for food, medicine, and ceremonial purposes by some Pacific Northwest tribes.

Pacific lamprey are anadromous--they live in both fresh and salt water. Adults live in the ocean where they feed on the blood and bodily fluids of marine mammals and fish. After about 2 years in the ocean, they return to freshwater streams to spawn, constructing nests in small gravel where they lay their eggs. Eggs hatch after several weeks. The blind larvae--called ammocoetes--live in fine sediment on the bottom of the stream and filter-feed on algae and detritus. After 4 to 6 years as an ammocoete, Pacific lamprey metamorphose to a second juvenile life stage called macropthalmia. During this stage, the juvenile lamprey migrates out to the ocean and begins a parasitic lifestyle as an adult, growing to about 2 feet in length.

Like salmon, the abundance and range of Pacific lamprey have been reduced. To improve their distribution and abundance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its partners are working to address threats to Pacific lamprey, restore habitat, and fill in large data gaps. Here in the Puget Sound area, we lack basic information on lamprey, including presence and absence of these fish in our local rivers. To remedy this, the U.S. Geological Survey partnered with the FWS in 2011 to look at lamprey caught in traps designed to capture juvenile salmon.

During the spring of 2011, juvenile lamprey were captured at 18 trap sites located throughout the Puget Sound area, including Hood Canal. Pacific lamprey were identified in 13 of these 18 watersheds. Color patterns and pigmentation on their tails were used to identify ammocoetes to species. No eyed juvenile (macrophthalmia) Pacific lamprey were captured in the traps. We suspect these ocean-bound juveniles move downstream at times outside of our trapping period.

Trap locations within Puget Sound (Mike Hayes, USGS)
Trap locations within Puget Sound
One interesting find was that of "dwarf" adult lamprey. These fish measured less than 300mm in length--an adult fish is typically over 500mm long. Why so short? Do they spend less time in salt water? Or do they remain and mature entirely in fresh water? We hope to find the answers next field season!

For more information on FWS Pacific lamprey activities:

Lamprey coloring book: http://www.fws.gov/columbiariver/publications/Pacific_lamprey_experience.pdf

Pacific lamprey fact sheet:

Follow Luna the Lamprey's return voyage from the ocean:

Visit Luna's Facebook page
Follow Luna's tweets (@LunaLamprey) on Twitter
Where's Luna now? Find her on a map


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Coho Salmon Passage - Feeding the Quilcene River Ecosystem

Releasing adult coho salmon
above the hatchery weir
Like many hatcheries, Quilcene National Fish Hatchery (located on the Olympic Peninsula) is equipped with a weir. A weir is similar to a dam, except that a weir controls the upstream flow of fish instead of controlling the downstream flow of water. At Quilcene NFH, the weir blocks returning adult coho salmon so that the hatchery can collect the number of fish it needs to breed future salmon generations and provide fish to its affiliated tribes for subsistence. In addition to these human needs, the ecosystem upstream of the hatchery needs fish, too.

Over the last 10 to 20 years, scientists have found that naturally-spawning salmon provide a myriad of ecological benefits to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, including delivering nutrients as natural fertilizers and serving as "ecosystem engineers" while digging their nests in the bottom of the stream. To help meet these ecosystem needs, our office is working with Quilcene NFH to intentionally pass adult coho salmon upstream of the weir.

This year, our target is to pass a total of 800 coho salmon over the weir. September 19 marked our first passage day when we released 170 fish into the Big Quilcene River above the weir.

A tagged coho salmon to be released above the hatchery weir. 
(Note the yellow tag near the rear of the dorsal fin.)

In addition to passing fish, we are also evaluating what these fish do and where they go afterward. To accomplish this, we tag the fish prior to release and later survey the river and streams to identify where the fish spawn and how many stay upstream versus return to the hatchery. We’ll write more about these evaluations later, but for now we are happy to see salmon spawning in the Big Quilcene River and delivering much-needed nutrients to support the ecosystem that also includes federally-listed Puget Sound steelhead.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Olympic Mudminnow Workshop - October 17, 2012

We are pleased to announce an upcoming workshop on Olympic mudminnow, Washington State's only endemic fish.

The workshop is a 1-day event designed to provide background information and research findings on Olympic mudminnow and establish a partnership coalition capable of developing and implementing a conservation strategy for Olympic mudminnow and their habitat. It is being sponsored by the Washington-British Columbia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society and will be held on October 17th at the Lacey Community Center in Lacey, Washington.

More information (including a registration link) can be found at  http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/Olymudminnow_wkshp.html.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Youth Fisheries Academy with the Skokomish Tribe

Hey there!

One of the Youth Fisheries Academies that we conducted this summer was with the Skokomish Tribe. I worked with two large groups of kids from 1st through 12th grade. I first worked with the high school students at George Adams State Fish hatchery. I started the day leading an invertebrate sampling station where students got a chance to step into the creek and see what they could catch. I had never led any stations on benthic macroinvertebrates before, but growing up fly fishing gave me the knowledge I needed to successfully lead the group.

Zach netting invertebrates
First, I explained just exactly what we were looking for-- animals that live on the bottom of a stream, are large enough to be seen without a microscope or magnifying glass, and have no backbone. Then we tromped around the creek to stir some of these animals out of the gravel and into the net.

Identifying the "catch"
Once the sample was collected, the group and I went onshore to pick through the sample container and start identifying our "catch". The students seemed blown away at the amount of living invertebrates we were able to pull out of 1 square foot of gravel; many had no idea that these animals were even around.

Later that day I switched from invertebrate sampling to fish dissections. I helped the students dissect their own trout as I demonstrated proper dissection technique on a large coho salmon. This is one of the most popular stations at all of the Youth Fisheries Academies so I really enjoyed leading the dissections (even though it got blistering hot in the dissection tent and I smelled like hot, old, dead salmon for the rest of the day).

Fish dissection
The second group of kids I worked with were aged of 5 through 13. This is my favorite age group to work with because they usually are enthusiastic, extremely curious, and ask some hilarious questions during the lessons. I helped lead a fish health and ID station for the first half of the camp and then helped the campers identify the live trout and salmon smolts that we brought. Halfway through the camp, a Skokomish storyteller told an amazing story to the children about how the Skokomish Tribe and the chum salmon came to be. After the story was finished, we transitioned to salmon dissections for the remainder of the camp. The kids and I had a blast going through each salmon organ together and explaining the purpose of each one.

This camp was one of my favorites this summer with great campers, parents, stories, delicious barbeque, enthusiastic questions, and the smell of salmon dissections in the air! What more could you ask for from a summer job?


--Zach Moore, STEP Fisheries Technician


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Life Aquatic 2012 - Youth Fisheries Academy Camp at Makah NFH

During the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, I help run the technology station. Here we teach kids about the various techniques and equipment that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I start by introducing the campers to fish tagging and methods used to track salmon released from hatcheries, which includes a hands-on activity using tag scanners and a discussion about the importance of tracking fish for conservation. Each year, millions of fish are released from hatcheries around the state of Washington. By tagging many of them, using the same kind of chip you might have in your pets, and placing automated tag readers at strategic locations such as fish ladders, we can learn where the fish are going, when they are returning, and estimate the size of the fish populations.

Explaining radio telemetry equipment
Working in the fisheries area of USFWS means that I am primarily focused on fish and aquatic invertebrates, but the agency deals with much more. The next part of the technologies station shifts the focus to tracking animals using radio telemetry. This involves placing a radio transmitter on an animal and using radio receivers to determine its location. After introducing the radio telemetry equipment at a camp at Makah National Fish Hatchery, one of the campers asked, "So, theoretically, I could put on this collar and hide somewhere and you would be able to find me?" He was thrilled when I told him that our very next activity was radio telemetry hide-and-seek. He put on the transmitter collar with enthusiasm and said he was going to be a bear. While he was scampered off to hide, I talked to the rest of the group about the importance of tracking individual animals to determine what habitats they are using as well as tracking populations in order to set hunting limits and determine population health. The other campers then set off with antennas and radio receivers in hand to locate their "bear" friend hiding somewhere at the hatchery. It is fun to watch campers get so excited.

More than just being fun, the Youth Fisheries Academy curriculum is designed to give kids experience with fishery science as well as teaching the purpose and importance of the work we are doing. This dual emphasis ensures that a new generation is raised with an awareness of the conservation challenges we are facing and hopefully plants some seeds for future field biologists who will continue this important work.

--Clay, STEP Fisheries Technician


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bull Trout Redd Surveys in Northern Puget Sound

Bull trout
Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) are a member of the salmonid family, which includes salmon, trout, whitefish, char, and grayling. Bull trout love cold, clean, complex, and connected streams and other aquatic habitat. Habitat degradation and fragmentation, blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, the effects of climate change and past fisheries management practices, including the introduction of non-native species such as brown, lake, and brook trout, have resulted in local extinctions and population declines of bull trout. This has led to the listing of bull trout as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Within the Puget Sound Bull Trout Management Unit, there are eight core areas with a total of 57 identified local populations. Bull trout are found in the Chilliwack, Nooksack, lower and upper Skagit, Snohomish-Skykomish, Stillaguamish, upper Cedar (Chester Morse Lake system), and Puyallup River basins. With the exception of the Chilliwack and upper Cedar River systems, these basins all support anadromous bull trout that use Puget Sound marine waters for foraging and migration.

A high priority goal of our agency is to acquire more complete information on the current distribution and abundance of bull trout within each core area of the Puget Sound Management Unit. Annual spawning nest (redd) counts provide a non-invasive way to monitor relative population strength of bull trout. Each fall, experienced fisheries personnel count the number of redds in predetermined stream sections. Not all known bull trout spawning areas are monitored, since weather and remoteness limit the ability to conduct the fall surveys in some areas. Comparison of the count numbers over time can provide insight into long- and short-term population trends and alert fishery and land managers to potential problems within aquatic systems.

Since State funds for surveying bull trout redds was no longer available, we provided money to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to continue collecting this valuable data through return year 2011 and to expand the number of survey sites. Staff from WDFW surveyed for bull trout redds within the Skagit, Snohomish, and Stillaguamish River basins from 2009 to 2011. Their findings include:
  • Fewer bull trout redds were observed in the past 3 years than were observed from 2006 to 2008.
  • The total bull trout redd count was very similar in 2011 to what was observed in 2010. However, some areas had more redds than in 2010 and some had less.
  • The total redd count of all sites (637) was 25% below the average count from the years 2006 through 2010 (850).

You can learn more about bull trout biology, critical habitat, and conservation measures at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout/


Monday, August 20, 2012

Documenting the Olympic Mudminnow Family Tree

Mudminnow habitat - Connor Creek, Grays Harbor County
This June and July, Fish Biologist Roger Tabor and I hit the highways and dirt roads of western Washington in search of undiscovered and established Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi) sites to complete the story of Olympic mudminnow population genetics. That just means we are documenting the Olympic mudminnow family tree to see who is most closely related and where the founding fish for each population may have come from. This type of information will help us down the road as we initiate discussions with our partner agencies and the public about developing a strategic habitat conservation approach for Olympic mudminnow.

Even before we hit the road with our boots and nets, there was a lot of planning and collaborating for Roger to do. He and fellow biologists here at USFWS and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are working together to research documents and historic data to uncover places where Washington’s only endemic fish were found in the past. This saves us time and money, keeps us from driving to every pond and ditch that looks promising, and allows us to identify land owners so we can ask for permission to access and sample on their property. Once the ground work was done, Roger and I hit the road in search of the mudminnows.

Roger Tabor looking for Olympic mudminnows
in Steamboat bog
Over the course of 5 days, we visited 12 sites and were able to capture hundreds of mudminnows from six targeted localities from Chehalis and along the Olympic Peninsula to Quillayute. We averaged less than a minute per mudminnow (that’s faster than 60 mudminnows per hour!) as we measured, weighed, sexed, and clipped each one. We only took a small bit of tissue from the caudal fin for the genetic clip sample, so we were able to release the mudminnows back to their respective home after a short rest in the "recovery bucket".

Even though our target is genetic samples, I cannot help becoming interested in the many differences and similarities between locations that mudminnows call home. All the sites were in very flat, barely flowing water with vegetation growing in the water and on the edges. We visited shady coastal creeks less than a mile from the ocean, sunny sphagnum bogs, lily-pad ponds, and wetlands at the corner of two busy roads. In some locations, our nets and traps caught up to four other fish species, giant water bugs (which still lurk in my nightmares), dragonfly nymphs, salamanders, frogs, freshwater mollusks (clams and snails), crayfish and more, while in other locations it seemed to be just the mudminnows and us.

For our samples, it’s a quick trip from biologist to geneticist and on to improving our understanding of the history and biology of mudminnow populations, painting a broad picture of how the mudminnows got to be where they are today, and possibly where they might be heading in the future. I, for one, cannot wait to see the results.

---Teal Waterstrat, STEP Student


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Life Aquatic 2012 - Introducing Clay

A Look at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Seasonal STEP Employee Experiences through A Fish-Eye Lens

Greetings! I’m Clay Showalter, a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Lacey, Washington. I’ve been studying computer science and field ecology at The Evergreen State College (TESC) for 3 years.

I grew up in the woods of Kansas where rip-roarin’ bass fishing and beautiful landscapes inspired me to learn more about the ecology of the area. I began to discover that the more I learned, the deeper I could appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world. I also learned that many ecosystems are being threatened by habitat loss and toxification.

I enrolled at TESC after high school and initially focused on computer science, math and physics. However, the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest was a constant reminder that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office my entire career. I then discovered the field of eco-informatics, which applies computer science techniques to field ecology. Field sampling by day and analyzing data by night convinced me that my future career should involve being outside and working to protect our natural resources.

This summer’s work experience with the FWS will include collecting field data and focusing on education and outreach through the Youth Fisheries Academy program. My work with the FWS offers an incredible opportunity to apply what I have learned, build on previous experience and pass on my knowledge and love of the outdoors to local youth. I have always been interested in teaching because education and outreach are essential for ensuring that future generations are conscious of the challenges that we are facing. While travelling and working on field projects in Ecuador last year, I was thrilled to gain experience teaching children about ecological issues relevant to their communities.

The Youth Fisheries Academy program here in Washington offers similar opportunities to plant seeds in the minds of youth that we all share some responsibility for the environment around us and that a career in field biology is one of many ways to make a difference in the ecosystems we rely on.

I am excited for this great opportunity and look forward to seeing what the summer will bring!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Outreach & Education - Part 2

Zach Moore
More about my outreach and education experiences . . . .

The final assignment for spring quarter involved teaching Komachin Middle School students about the use of technology in biological field work during their field trips at Tolmie State Park. I hosted a radio-telemetry activity with the students in the forest section of the park, starting off by introducing the equipment, explaining how it works, and discussing how the data gathered with the equipment is used for conservation work. After that brief introduction, it was all hands-on fun as the students played a game of radio telemetry “hide-and-seek”. For this game, one or two students put on radio collars (representing “wild" animals), while the rest of the group searched for them using antennas and receivers. This was the most fun outreach project of my internship and each group of students really enjoyed the activity. By the end of the lesson, I could swear that some of the students could use the equipment as well as I could. This was a great way to take today’s tech-savvy students and connect those skills to nature and conservation.

Zach describing radio-telemetry equipment
Because the environmental education-based classes that I had taken at The Evergreen State College (TESC) never really gave me a chance to do any real teaching with students, these outreach experiences were extremely beneficial for me. After getting a few lessons under my belt, I began to feel more comfortable in front of students and teaching began to get easier. I soon developed techniques to make each lesson work effectively and my confidence in front of a student audience grew. I ended up providing a diverse curriculum to over 600 elementary and middle school students during this spring quarter! The feedback I received from my supervisor, other educators, and students was all very positive.

I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was fun, rewarding, and only strengthened my desire to pursue this field of work. I plan on taking more education-type classes during my next 2 years at TESC and seeking out similar experience-building opportunities in the future!

--Zach Moore, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician

Thursday, July 12, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Education and Outreach - Part 1

Zach Moore
One of the great aspects about my internship with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office (USFWS) Fisheries Division has been the diversity of experiences I have had working with multiple USFWS biologists and technicians. While my last two blog posts focused on biological field work, I also participated in a variety of education and outreach work. It would be difficult to understate the importance of this line of work. From an academic standpoint, it aligns perfectly with my environmental education major. From a professional standpoint, I am aware of the emphasis the USFWS places on connecting people with nature. Having these skills will strengthen my resume and, from a personal standpoint, it has been a great experience sharing my love for and knowledge of the outdoors with the next generation.

My first outreach assignment involved teaching fish anatomy to several groups of students. The dissections were definitely one of my favorite activities--they generated a lot of excitement from everyone. Even students who were hesitant to participate at first ended up inspecting and passing around salmon organs before the lesson was over. Most of the kids left the lesson really excited about what they had learned about fish biology.

Fish dissection
My next assignment involved leading students in several activities designed to teach them about salmon life history during their class field trip visits to Quilcene National Fish Hatchery. For one activity, students constructed bracelets with beads that represented the various stages, migration, habitats, and hazards of the salmon life cycle. This was a great example of how you can teach biology through art. Another activity focused on how salmon rely on their sense of smell to navigate back to their natal (home) stream to spawn. For this activity, students were blindfolded and introduced to a scent that represented their natal stream. Participants then made a migration, attempting to find their home stream using their sense of smell. This activity really helped students understand a biological process that is very awe-inspiring.

To be continued . . .

--Zach Moore, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician

Friday, June 22, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Field Work - Part 2

Zach Moore
More about my field work experiences . . . .

I also had a chance to help sample Olympic mudminnow around Olympia with Roger Tabor, USFWS biologist. This was a great way to get some new knowledge of, and experience with, a species of fish I previously knew nothing about. I went to several different wetlands to catch and sample these interesting little fish. The capture method involved swiping a frame net into murky ponds and pulling out handfuls of mudminnows. We sedated the fish so we could collect data such as length and weight, as well as stomach samples for diet analysis, and then returned them to the pond.

But my favorite field work opportunity was working on the Tsoo-Yess River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula near Makah National Fish Hatchery. I went up there with a crew for several days at a time. Our goal was to capture and collect outmigrating juvenile salmonids such as steelhead trout, coho salmon, and Chinook salmon. To do this, we installed a fish weir (river fence) that directed these small fish to the rotary screw trap. Installing a fish weir is a lot of work and it took us a couple of days to finish the entire thing, but when it was done it felt like a great accomplishment. I also assisted with the screw trap sampling where I gained experience utilizing a useful fish sampling device and improved my fish identification and data collection skills.

Sampling juvenile salmon at the screw trap on the Tsoo-Yess River
(fish weir in background)
I feel fortunate to have had this valuable opportunity with the USFWS. I was able to receive 16 college credits for my work and build and diversify my resume at thr same time. It was also a great way to get my foot in the door with the USFWS. My hard work paid off--I applied and successfully competed for a paid seasonal fisheries technician position with the USFWS Fisheries Division!

Working in the field was definitely my favorite part of my spring internship and I can’t wait to do more this summer! I am looking forward to new adventures and career-building experiences this coming summer. Stay tuned!

--Zach Moore, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

USFWS Internship - Spring 2012 Field Work - Part 1

Zach Moore
Hello again! After finishing my volunteer work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) this past winter, I applied for a quarter-long internship  this spring. After my application was accepted by the USFWS, I found a sponsoring professor at The Evergreen State College and worked with both to formulate a learning contract that enabled me to receive college credits for my work. I found my spring internship to be the coolest college class I have taken yet! I was able to visit and work in some amazing places as well as gain a great deal of experience in fisheries field biology.
The field work gave me a chance to work alongside fisheries conservation professionals collecting valuable data--a nice contrast to sitting in a crowded classroom listening to lectures. This work sent me to a handful of amazing places like Neah Bay, the Elwha River, and deep into the forests around Olympia. I gained a wide range of experience, including electrofishing, fish weir installation, habitat measurement, handling live fish specimens, and recording all kinds of data.

One field project involved updating Washignton Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) maps and habitat types through field data collection. This project is headed by the Wild Fish Conservancy and the USFWS made me available to provide assistance for this valuable conservation work. We would collect abiotic (non-living) habitat data such bankfull width, wetted width, and gradient. We also used GPS technology to verify stream locations. The biotic (living) sampling involved electrofishing to verify the presence or absence of fish. The data collected allowed us to update WDNR records that were previously inaccurate. For example, two tributaries of Swift Creek were previously listed as "nonfish-bearing"; however, we were able to verify the presence of fish in them through our field work. The reclassification of these two tributaries will now result in improved protection of critical fish habitat, including the bordering riparian zone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Musings on the Olympic Mudminnow

Olympic mudminnows in their habitat

Last week, staff from our office and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife took a group of Olympia High School students out to the Green Cove Olympic mudminnow site. There the students learned mudminnow basics (including history, policy, and anatomy), entomology/invertebrates, and a little bit about mudminnow diet analysis. Then they pulled minnow traps and did some sampling in the wetland. At the end of the day, the students were asked by their teacher to take a few moments to write a poem or draw a piece of art that related to what they learned that day.  Here’s what they wrote:

Olympic mudminnow - male
The majestic unturned land.
It lies in the midst of a world of sand.
The glass turns, but the minnows stay.
They would fray.
~ Kevin Kalb

What I Learned
In the beginning I didn’t know much
But then I began to touch.
I touched the minnow in the bucket
And slowly I began to check it.
They only live on Washington’s coast
If they don’t then they are toast.
Thank you teachers for teaching me much
So I can tell my friends and such.
~ Calla Chen

Olympic mudminnow - female
Solitary Fish
Although the water cradles the mosses and brush
Many minnows lie.
~Cody Seales

In the water I love to go
Just like this mudminnow.
So fast so swift but always in danger
I’ll protect this fish forever in the manger.
~ Mike Schulte

Listen Listen
Listen listen do you hear
The free and wild minnows tear.
Is there hope is there life for these free and wild minnows to fight?
Listen again I say to you
Help these minnows so it will free you too.
~ Benjamin Boggs

I saw a fish
Smaller than a knife
And now I see
The meaning of life
~Andre Amaral

Minnow minnow in the pond.
How I see a leafy frond.
Over there across the water.
My oh my it’s getting hotter
Minnow minnow in the pond
You kinda look like James Bond.
~Sean Frymire

Wetland - Olympic mudminnow "home"

My Home
Wetlands, the place I call my home
If my home is destroyed where will I go?
Is a home for you better than a home for me?
The swampy, muddy marsh is my idea of a home
Where I swim, eat, and play all day.
My home the wetlands.
~Meghan Midkiff

The water isn’t clean
and I’m all dressed up in neoprene
Meghan, Lauryn, and Bryan is the team.
I’m a minnow catching fiend.
The ladies like to nag
B-RY has got the fish in the bag
With a little bit of mud and some frog ovary swag
~Bryan Villavicencio

I see a minnow over there
That little guy has no hair.
He is small not like a bear
I walk slow so he won’t scare.
~Casey Vaughn

Olympic Mudminnows
Translucent bodies, flecks of gold, love to live in a quiet environment protected by tall red alder, hidden in grasses, swishing in mud, they survive the elements, deposited by a glacier only found in Washington; sensitive to changes in the wetlands.
~Nic Cereghino

To find out more about the Olympic mudminnow, please see our earlier post.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mass Marking and Tagging at National Fish Hatcheries

Howard in the autofish trailer
When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I’m in charge of running a manual mass marking and tagging trailer, as well as an autofish trailer. Then I get the “uh-huh” nod and the “that’s nice” comment. So let me explain in more detail what I do for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 

Our office supports Quilcene, Quinault, and Makah National Fish Hatcheries. My work includes operating a 44’ trailer to mass mark all of the fish at each of these hatcheries. Mass marking helps us determine whether a fish was raised in a hatchery or is a wild fish.  Mass marking is done by clipping the adipose fin from each hatchery fish by hand with scissors. A percentage of the fish are also tagged with a coded-wire tag. A coded-wire tag is 2.2mm long by 4 hair widths wide and has a six-digit code imprinted on it. This code lets us determine where the fish originated---a USFWS hatchery, a Washington State hatchery, or a tribal hatchery.

        Marking a young salmon (left) and manually tagging a young salmon (right)        
By law, all salmon and steelhead released from Federal hatcheries have to be massed marked unless the fish are being used in a study. So each year I work with many others to mark a lot of fish! Makah National Fish Hatchery raises 2.4 million fall Chinook salmon, 240,000 coho salmon, and 180,000 winter steelhead; Quinault National Fish Hatchery raises 600,000 coho salmon and 200,000 winter steelhead; and Quilcene National Fish Hatchery raises 600,000 coho salmon. 

The manual mass marking and tagging trailer that I operate needs one operator and 12 crew members to make the trailer run. When we are only mass marking the fish, we can mark about 60,000 to 80,000 fish per day in an 8-hour shift with a full crew. When we are tagging the fish, we can tag about 30,000 to 45,000 fish in an 8-hour shift.

Inside the autofish trailer
The autofish trailer that I operate needs one operator and two crew members to make the trailer run. This trailer has six automated stations and one station in the back of the trailer for the two crew members. It can mark and tag about 60,000-100,000 fish in an 8-hour period. The trailer measures the length of each fish and then sends the fish to one of the six stations. For example, the operator can tell the computer to send all fish that are 100mm to 120mm long to Station 1; send the fish that are 121mm to 130mm long to Station 2, and so on. All of the fish that are outside of the programmed size ranges are sent to the back of the trailer to be marked and/or tagged manually.

So, in a nutshell, I’m responsible for the supervision of the clipping/tagging crew, monitoring the health of the fish during marking and tagging, and coordinating with my peers at the hatcheries, fish health center, tribes, and other agencies. If you stop by any of the USFWS hatcheries on the Olympic Peninsula and see our trailer, please knock on the door and ask for a tour. I’ll be happy to show you how it all works!

-- Howard Gearns, Biological Science Technician/Mass Marking and Tagging Trailer Supervisor


Friday, April 20, 2012

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Partner Celebration

Lake Sammamish kokanee fry
On April 19, 2012, citizens and partners in Lake Sammamish kokanee conservation gathered at Hans Jensen Park in Issaquah, WA to commemorate another successful year of the kokanee supplementation program. This year over 60,000 kokanee fry will be released, which is more than the past two years combined. The juvenile kokanee that are just a few inches long are primarily released at night; however, a few were released at the event to mark the success of this year’s efforts.

Releasing kokanee fry into
Laughing Jacobs Creek
Lake Sammamish kokanee, a landlocked form of sockeye salmon, have greatly declined in recent years and were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Although the USFWS has determined that the species does not warrant listing, we continue to work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), King County, local city governments, Trout Unlimited, Snoqualmie Tribe, and other local entities to rebuild its native population.  

Event attendees
Key elements of the Lake Sammamish kokanee strategic habitat conservation effort include protecting and restoring spawning habitat, reducing kokanee mortality in Lake Sammamish, and providing fish passage in tributary streams. The USFWS has provided funding and technical support for both short-term (supplementation program) and long-term (restoration) efforts and is designed to support these efforts for three kokanee generations (12 years). The supplementation program includes collecting wild spawners and using an innovative system of recirculating incubators at Issaquah Creek State Hatchery to increase egg-to-fry survival rates and maximize imprinting to natal streams.

Robyn Thorson, USFWS
Speakers at this year’s event included Dow Constantine, King County Executive; Robyn Thorson, USFWS Pacific Regional Director; Jim Scott, WDFW Assistant Director; and elected officials from Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond, and Sammamish.
Click here to see a video of the fry release event.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Puzzling Pearlshells of the Satsop River Drainage

Hello, Teal Waterstrat here to share more about our investigations into the freshwater mussels of western Washington.

Western Pearlshell mussels in Satsop River
Freshwater mussels are relatives of the shellfish you find in Puget Sound and coastal waters. Unlike those shellfish, freshwater mussels need a fish to help them get around our rivers, streams, and lakes. Larval mussels, or glochidia, are released by the females and, with any luck, attach to a fish that takes them on a ride for several days to months. Once attached to the fish, the mussels grow into juveniles and drop off to the bed of the pond or stream and start growing into adults.

Last summer’s mussel surveys in the Satsop River drainage led to the observation of two additional Western Pearlshell (Margaritifera falcata) mussel beds in the Satsop River watershed--one located in the headwaters of the East Fork Satsop River and another near the confluence of the Satsop and Chehalis River. One of the most immediate and striking things you notice when visiting these populations is the differences between in the size of mussels and how dissimilar their habitats are.

Upper Satsop River
Up at the top of the Satsop River you can easily visit crystal clear waters in a pair of chestwaders any day of the year and find thousands of mussels. Down at the mouth of the Satsop and Chehalis Rivers, the beds are currently deep under high murky waters due to our springtime rains and runoff. High in the river we found thousands of "small" mussels, and even a number of baby mussels, in a complex habitat of braiding channels with lots of large wood and wetland plants. In the lower reaches, we observed relatively large mussels in what appear to be simple streambed habitats.

Western Pearlshell mussel
Our investigations this coming summer will focus on understanding what creates the differences between populations--Is it the amount of food and calcium in the water making them grow bigger downstream, colder temperatures slowing growth in the headwaters, or perhaps more water moves bigger rocks necessitating bigger, tougher mussels? Which fish are they using as hosts and when do they spawn? Few studies have looked at these questions on the west side of Washington. Assessing and confirming the differences in mussel habitats and populations can tell us a lot about the variety of places they call home. It will also help us create informed management strategies in our freshwater ecosystems.

We will keep you posted as the field season progresses. Right now, we are setting up our monitoring sites and beginning to look for signs of female mussels getting ready to release their larvae.

You can help us study freshwater mussels, too. If you see any mussels, leave them in the water where you found them and send me an email (Teal_Waterstrat@fws.gov) with the location, a description of the mussels, and a picture if possible.

--Teal Waterstrat, STEP Student


Friday, March 30, 2012

Wild Fish Go Where They Please

Wild fish go where they please. This can make catching them somewhat difficult, but there are ways to direct fish in the direction you want them to go. Juvenile salmon naturally migrate downstream and we use this instinct to our advantage when trying to collect information about their size and numbers.

Screw trap (at bottom) with panels
When setting up a sampling device such as a screw trap or fyke net, fish need to be guided into the trap. The trap is usually set up in the middle of a stream or in higher flow areas and, in some cases, panels need to be set up to act as a wall. This wall of panels is set up so that it points downstream like an arrow, directing fish into the trap. Once the fish are caught, they are measured, weighed, and marked. They are then released, unharmed, to continue their migration downstream.

Scientists have used weir panels to control the movement of fish for decades. Knowing the amount of fish that use a river is vital in sustaining a healthy population. The information collected from these sampling activities tells scientists if a fish population is in danger and if action needs to be taken to protect it.  In this way, we can protect fish populations for future generations to enjoy and appreciate

If you see panels like these (or ones like them) in a river or stream, please do not touch them. Climbing on or wiggling them could endanger the information they are helping to collect. Please feel free to LOOK, but DON’T TOUCH. Scientists are trying to help the fish and we need your help to do it!  


Thursday, March 15, 2012

USFWS Internship & Mentoring Programs

Zach Moore
Greetings!  My name is Zach Moore and I am a fisheries and outreach intern with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Lacey, Washington. This internship is in conjunction with The Evergreen State College, where I am a sophomore focusing on environmental science & education. While my college coursework has been essential in preparing me for a career in my focus areas, the importance of resume-building professional experience cannot be overemphasized. The Evergreen State College provides its students with credit-earning opportunities for gaining this type of experience. For example, the “Citizen Science: Ecoliteracy” class that I am currently taking actually requires at least 80 hours of internship work. So when the USFWS posted an internship opportunity this past fall, I jumped on it.

This internship has already provided me with top-notch experience in both of my college focuses. For environmental education, I have had a lot of opportunities to work in classrooms with students, including visits to Onalaska High School, Reeves Middle School, Mill Creek Elementary, and a field trip with Timberland High School students to Tolmie State Park. During these events, I assisted with classroom presentations and fish dissections. It has been great interacting with these future natural resource stewards and their enthusiasm been nothing short of contagious.

Zach with weir panel
For the environmental science component, one highlight was assisting with the Elwha River weir project. A fish weir is a tool that is used to capture, count, and study fish populations. It is like a fence that spans across the river directing migrating salmon and steelhead into a trap box. We made two separate multi-day trips to Port Angeles to repair the weir panels and then install the weir in the river. It was great to be able to get in a dry suit, slap a snorkel on my face, and dive in the Elwha River to install the panels I had previously repaired. The visibility in the river was less than 6 inches during the days I was working and installing the panels which proved to be both challenging and rewarding. It was awesome to have the opportunity to assist with this historic project. Now that the dams are being removed, this fish weir will help document how the salmon and steelhead respond to having access to the upper Elwha River once again.

Zach and USFWS biologist installing weir panel
This rewarding experience has motivated me to pursue a full quarter-long internship with the USFWS this spring. Instead of averaging 10 hours a week like I did this past winter quarter, I will be working 30-40 hours a week and gaining far more experience. I will be leading my own classroom curriculum and gaining experience in a variety of field projects including electrofishing, screw trapping for outmigrating salmon, and Olympic mudminnow sampling . . . all of this while earning college credits! This sort of experience will really pay off when it’s time to compete for paid positions. 

For a video explaining the Elwha River weir project (including installation and sampling footage), visit:


Friday, March 2, 2012

Spreading the Word to Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

“How would these invasive species (quagga and zebra mussels) impact the salmon fishery?” 
“It only took 6 months for them to destroy that boat motor?!” 
“The quagga mussel has already spread to lakes in northern Nevada?!!” 

Mussel-encrusted lower boat unit
While a picture may be worth 1,000 words, the invasive species displays at our informational booth at the 2012 Seattle Boat Show produced several thousand concerned comments. Fisheries Division staff of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office spent the 10 days of the show educating as many recreational and commercial boaters as possible in the prevention and further spread of these aquatic hitchhikers. The booth featured a dramatic quagga mussel-encrusted lower boat unit from Lake Mead (NV) that was rendered inoperable from an accumulation of shells. In addition to the display, the booth provided outreach materials including identification cards, pamphlets, and brochures.

“Well, I don’t have to worry about that, do I? I keep my boat in salt water.” 
“Can’t I just move my boat to salt water to kill them?” 
“How long do I need to dry out my boat in order to kill them?” 

These were some common questions that demonstrate the overall lack of knowledge in the boating community. These questions (and more) were answered at the informational booth through direct discussions and informational handouts. This was the perfect venue for such outreach work, as recreational and professional boaters are a primary vector for these invasive species to reach new bodies of water. While the displays demonstrated the impact of zebra and quagga mussels, the five USFWS employees manning the booth during the show also provided information on additional invasive species including New Zealand mudsnails, European green crabs, nutria, and aquatic plants including milfoil and hydrilla. With the Seattle Boat Show averaging 60,000 attendees per year, we were able to raise awareness about the importance of invasive species identification, reporting, inspection stations, and personal inspections combined with thorough sterilization methods through wash downs and boat/trailer drying. With a more informed public, we now have more tools to prevent further spread of these devastating invaders. 

Providing information about invasive species

Public outreach is currently our best line of defense in this very important battle. Invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels have been both economically and environmentally costly since their introduction in the United States. Mussel accumulation on commercial and recreational vessels, for example, results in poor fuel efficiency and performance (due to increased weight and friction), as well as increased engine/motor maintenance and expenses. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually keeping these invasive species at bay where they infest public works systems including water treatment facilities, hydroelectric plants, irrigation pipes, dams, and reservoirs. Their proliferation has also led to decreased food availability for fish and covering of essential fish passage by their razor-sharp shells.

While this event had a strong focus on water vessel transport, it is important to keep in mind the variety of pathways that invasive species take advantage of in order to spread to new areas.  For more information on how you can help prevent the spread of invasive species, please visit the following links: 


National Invasive Species Information Center
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Invasive Species
Washington Invasive Species Council
Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers
USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Information


“Don’t Move a Mussel” (YouTube video)
Watercraft Inspection & Decontamination training (YouTube video)


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seattle Youth Aim for the Outdoors - Seattle Boat Show 2012

Future anglers
The rainbow trout may have been laminated, but you wouldn't have known it from the look on the faces of the future anglers that visited us at the Seattle Boat Show!  This type of enthusiasm was commonplace at the 65th Annual Seattle Boat Show, where Fisheries Division staff provided a fun casting activity station for the attending youth. Participants, ranging from 4 years of age through “kid at heart” adults, learned the basics of casting, tested their casting skills, and even took part in some playful accuracy competitions. The goal of the activity was to provide a relevant and fun activity that would inspire future natural resource recreationalists.

Judging from the sheer volume of smiles, it’s safe to say we accomplished this goal. Over 600 youth participated in the casting activities over the 10 days of the show (January 27 - February 5).  Five staff members and one high school volunteer provided casting lessons, supervision, and distributed prizes to all participants--both young and old.  We hope that these future angling enthusiasts will take their new-found skills to a local river or lake. With future natural resource recreationalists comes future advocates!

For more information about the Seattle Boat Show, visit http://www.seattleboatshow.com/.


Friday, February 3, 2012

A Regional View of the USFWS Fisheries Program

This week, our Regional office launched a website (Link 1) containing highlights of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Fisheries Program in the Pacific Region for 2011.

We are one of several USFWS Fisheries offices  located in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and the Pacific Islands.  Each office works with tribal, state, and other federal partners to promote conservation of aquatic trust species and the habitats required to sustain them for future generations of Americans.

Several of our western Washington aquatic species conservation projects and youth outreach programs are highlighted in the report (Link 2). We are pleased to share the report and website with you in an effort to raise awareness of aquatic trust species conservation needs and efforts in our region. 

Link 1:  Region 1 website

Friday, January 13, 2012

Elwha River Weir Summary 2011

The Elwha River weir (a temporary trap) was re-installed on August 18, 2011, to count and collect biological data from adult salmon and steelhead as part of an ongoing effort to determine how these populations change as a result of dam removal. A secondary goal is to provide broodstock for hatchery production and conservation during dam removal when turbidity levels are expected to be lethal to fish in the river.

2.340 cfs and still working
Due to an unusually high snowpack (190% of normal), the trap had to be installed at a flow of 1,640 cubic feet per second (cfs). The first fish caught was a sockeye, which was marked and passed upstream. The trap fished continuously from August 18 to October 19, 2011, except for three days when flows exceeded 4,000 cfs. The weir was once again pushed to the limits in 2011, fishing at flows over 2,500 cfs (compared to a high of 2,200 cfs in 2010), which significantly exceeded our weir design expectation of 2,000 cfs. The weir was removed on October 19, 2011, after the removal of a log boom at the Elwha Dam which resulted in the release of hundreds of large logs into the lower Elwha River.

A total of 647 live and dead (carcasses) salmon and trout were captured at the weir during the 2011 summer/fall season, compared to 492 fish captured in 2010. A total of 218 live adult salmon and trout, representing seven different species including Chinook (73), pink (129), chum (1), coho (1), and sockeye salmon (8), and steelhead (3) and bull trout (3) were captured at the weir in 2011.  

Species present in the Elwha River
Fifty-five Chinook salmon were retained for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Chinook salmon broodstock program at the Elwha rearing channel. One hundred twelve pink salmon were also retained as broodstock for the pink salmon captive brood program. This program is designed to protect the pink salmon stock during lethal turbidity levels occurring during dam removal.

In addition to the live fish caught at the weir, 429 salmon carcasses, including 381 Chinook and 48 pinks, were handled. These post-spawn carcasses represent fish that had either migrated upstream past the weir before it was installed or were passed above the weir by weir personnel.

Data collected for fish caught at the weir included, species, fish condition, sex, origin (wild/hatchery), presence/absence of coded-wire tags and passive integrated transponder tags (PIT), fin condition, length, scale samples for aging, DNA samples, and information on adult run timing. Otolith samples were collected from Chinook salmon carcasses.

Sampling a sockeye salmon for PIT tag detection
The weir is planned to be re-installed during the winter of 2012 to capture and count adult steelhead and any other adult salmonids migrating in the Elwha River. In addition to biological data collection, the weir will be used in conjunction with a SONAR system to assess steelhead abundance.

The Elwha River weir project 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 evaluate the response of adult salmonids to the removal of two Elwha River hydroelectric dams. The weir was funded in 2011 by cooperating agencies as part of their annual budget. Additional funds were obtained through the President’s stimulus program (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) which funded the project through September 30, 2011. The weir is funded through September 30, 2012, with funds provided by USEPA through the Puget Sound Partnership.