The Hood Canal Bridge Ecosystem Impact Assessment builds off our efforts to recover steelhead populations and increase marine survival by pinpointing the cause of high steelhead mortality and changes in water circulation related to the floating bridge.
Scientists will investigate the specific effects of the bridge so that a team of managers may implement solutions that don’t impact bridge’s functionality as a transportation corridor. This problem is a key priority considering the millions of dollars already spent recovering salmon and steelhead populations in the Hood Canal. Tackling this regional issue capitalizes on LLTK’s success organizing large groups of stakeholders around a common goal.
In Puget Sound, it’s tough going for Washington’s State Fish. The Puget Sound steelhead population has shrunk to less than one tenth of its historic size and faces possible extinction. For the past eighteen years, LLTK has worked hard to help reverse the fate of our steelhead. Along the way, we’ve been using every wrench, screwdriver, and hammer in our toolbox to help.
Since 1998, LLTK and our partners have been testing a novel approach to Hood Canal steelhead recovery at Lilliwaup Hatchery. Led by NOAA fisheries, we have developed a way to use hatcheries to increase the number of wild steelhead while minimizing the damaging effects artificial rearing can have on the productivity of the population.
Through our Hood Canal Steelhead Project and affiliated work in Puget Sound, scientists learned that juvenile steelhead were dying at high rates during their short two-week trek from their natal rivers to the Pacific Ocean. Established in 2014, LLTK’s Salish Sea Marine Survival Project works to tackle this issue, combining the forces of over 60 entities to drive the science necessary to determine why juvenile steelhead, and Chinook and coho, aren’t fairing as well as they used to in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia.
Puget Sound steelhead were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Nine years have gone by and still no plan is in place to recover them. From 2012-2014, LLTK worked with resource managers in Hood Canal to assemble the information necessary to guide the development of a recovery plan. In 2015, LLTK was nominated to a seat on the Puget Sound Steelhead Recovery Team. In this role, LLTK brings the most current science from the marine survival project and our conservation planning skills to ensure a clear, actionable recovery plan is developed.
Twenty-five years ago, summer chum were nearly extinct in Hood Canal. Rivers once teaming with them had 0 to 100 fish left. In the late 1990s Hood Cana summer chum were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Resource managers began to take immediate action, curbing overharvest and initiating habitat restoration in critical areas. But with so few fish left, there was concern that some populations of summer chum would blink out without intervention.
LLTK’s, Lilliwaup Field Station was constructed in 1993. This facility was a vision of emergency room care for salmon come to life, extending LLTK’s approach of carefully using hatcheries to benefit wild salmon into Hood Canal. In 1995, LLTK began working with partners to boost the wild summer chum populations in greatest need while habitat and harvest limiting factors were being addressed. This would be limited intervention: long enough to boost the population to a point where they are again self-sustaining, but short enough to prevent hatchery rearing from domesticating the chum, reducing their ability to reproduce in the wild. LLTK focused on summer chum in the Hamma Hamma River and Lilliwaup Creek.
Twenty-one years later, the fish are everywhere! In the Hamma Hamma River, we discontinued operations after successfully making the population self-sustaining: adult returns have rebounded from ~100 to nearly 2,000 each year. In Lilliwaup Creek, the number of adult chum returning to spawn has risen from 15-20 to over 1,000 per year. While summer chum have made a dramatic come back, we aren’t out of the woods yet. More Hood Canal rivers need their chum back, and habitat must be restored before this population can truly be considered recovered.