Squaxin Island Tribe Suspends Salmon Fisheries to Meet Totten Inlet Escapement Needs.

Spawned out Chum Salmon

Spawned out Chum Salmon

As of 9 AM Sunday October 26, the Squaxin Island Tribe suspended all directed salmon fisheries to ensure that Totten Inlet meets its escapement goal. 2008 Escapement goal for Totten Inlet is 14,400 chum. On Wednesday October 29 Squaxin NR staff walked Kennedy Creek and only counted 1922 live and 55 dead chum.

Doyle Foster conducting a Adult Chum Spawner Survey

Doyle Foster conducting an Adult Chum Spawner Survey

These numbers are very low; normally we are seeing 4,000 to 8,000 chums in Kennedy Creek by this week.  We are assuming that very low flows (lack of rain) are contributing to the low counts.  We are optimistic that with current weather forecast for the up coming week that chum will start to move through the system.

Squaxin Island Tribe Fall Chum Fisheries are based on in-season escapement numbers for each of our inlets.   For example, if this weeks Kennedy Creek stream counts were well on the way to the escapement goal,  we would have had an opening this week.

At this time we will be holding off any scheduled Fall Chum fisheries until we get another count on Kennedy Creek next week.  We will be going out to Kennedy to survey early next week.


Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish Stewardship Initiative

Background:  the county surrounding Hammersley Inlet was named Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish in 1853 to honor those already living there.  The county name was changed in 1864, but still encompasses Oakland Bay—a natural resource vital to the ecologic and economic health of Puget Sound, Mason County, the shellfish and timber industries, the City of Shelton and the Squaxin Island Tribe.


The shellfish industry is one of the largest employers in Mason County and Oakland Bay represents a robust resource for the entire state.  The value of shellfish harvested from the bay exceeds $10 million.  This includes over three million pounds of clams and nearly two million oysters.  Over 200 tribal harvesters make part or all of their annual income there and 2,000 recreational harvesters visit the bay every year.

Although the watershed is relatively undeveloped, its geography makes it extremely sensitive to human activities.  The bay itself is a small, relatively broad and shallow estuary with a large intertidal zone.  Only a small amount of bay water makes it out to the rest of South Sound on each tidal cycle because of the narrow constriction formed by Hammersley Inlet.  Instead, the majority of Oakland Bay’s water re-circulates between the bay and inlet.  This slow exchange of water allows pollution from the uplands to linger for long periods of time.

The prime pollution sources diminishing water quality are straightforward—pathogens and bacteria from failing onsite septic systems and livestock/manure.  These issues coupled with habitat alterations and increased stormwater runoff have limited the capacity of the landscape and vegetation to filter and buffer such pollution. 

Solutions for the immediate problems in Oakland Bay are far simpler than for much of the rest of Puget Sound.  There is not a dissolved oxygen crisis and any toxic contamination is likely limited to Shelton Harbor.  The necessary best management practices are well understood—they only need to be implemented.

Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish Stewardship Initiative:  key to restoring Oakland Bay is working with private landowners and assisting in the implementation of land stewardship practices that limit contributions of pathogens and bacteria.  To achieve such an outcome, a broad-based community action coalition has formed the Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish Stewardship Initiative.  It is funded by a grant from the EPA Region 10 West Coast Estuaries Initiative to the Squaxin Island Tribe and involves many partners throughout the community.

The initiative objective and measure for success in Oakland Bay is to perpetuate shellfish harvest, and this requires the whole watershed be healthy.  The coalition is committed to providing technical assistance and best management practice incentives to foster good stewardship practices and improve fish and wildlife habitat.  Innovation through promotion of low impact development and nearshore conservation to decrease the environmental impact of future population growth is a complementary action.

Credible science is an important ingredient for the initiative.  The Squaxin Island Tribe arranged to work with EPA to use DNA to identify fecal bacteria sources for corrective action, and is currently investigating the role of wind in re-suspending fecal bacteria growing on intertidal sediment.  The coalition’s commitment to science will continue with a program of effectiveness monitoring to assess the achievements of the Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish Stewardship Initiative.

Oakland Bay represents a tremendous opportunity for biological recovery within Puget Sound.  With all the right elements for a highly successful outcome—the leadership, an energetic and broad-based community coalition, engaged citizens, an action plan, relatively intact landscape and the necessary science—a healthy Oakland Bay is within our reach.


Initiative partners include:  City of Shelton; Departments of Agriculture, Ecology and Health; EPA Region 10; Green Diamond Resource Co.; Mason Conservation District; Mason County; Puget Sound Partnership; Seattle Shellfish; Simpson Timber Co.; Squaxin Island Tribe; Taylor Shellfish; UW Sea Grant; and WSU Extension.


For more information:


Oakland Bay Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish Stewardship Initiative


Inner Tubers Ahead of Biologists in Restoring Deschutes River

On the wall of my office is a photo of one of my co-workers, Joe Puhn taken during a habitat survey on the Deschutes River.  He’s standing in a few feet of water, hanging on to his float tube.  What’s interesting about the picture is the width, depth, and curviness (sinuosity) of the river.

We were doing the survey in the summer when most of the Deschutes runs wide and straight, shallow and hot.  Someone, probably kids looking for a better inner tubing experience, piled up rocks and gravel to narrow, deepen and add sinuosity to the channel to speed the river.

What is good for inner tubing is also good for fish — faster water makes more interesting tubing and sweeps out the fine sediment in spawning gravel (fine sediment can choke salmon before they ever emerge from the gravel).  Added sinuosity lengthens the river and allows the water to interact more with the cool, underlying gravel.

The state Department of Ecology recently released a draft report that outlines the various reasons behind the declining health of the Deschutes River.  One of the major obstacles faced by fish is high temperatures.  If water is too warm for fish, they can die from heat stress.

Most of the discussion around this particular aspect of the Deschutes has focused on the need to plant more trees and better manage riparian vegetation to shade the river from the heating effects of the summer sun.  But buried in the report is data that suggests planting trees is not enough to eliminate water temperatures lethal to fish (> 22 oC or 72 oF).  Much more has to be done to approach the overall natural background condition where the summer, system-wide 7-day average maximum water temperature can potentially be as low as 16.6 oC (~62 oF).

The current summer condition is about 23.7 oC (~75 oF) due to the influence of human activities.  Mature vegetation in a healthy riparian zone will lower that temperature by 4.5 oC (~8 oF), but improvements to channel conditions and microclimate can provide an additional 2 oC (~3.5 oF) of cooling.  Only with improvements to channel conditions can water temperatures lethal to fish be completely eliminated from the Deschutes River system.

One way to improve channel conditions and cool water temperatures is with large woody debris.  Planted trees will eventually fall into the river and create logjams.  These structures will vary the river, digging out deep, cool pools for fish to rest and creating fine sediment-free riffles for fish to spawn.

But that sort of solution is too far down the road.  We can get into the river today and build logjams that will start helping fish now, rather than a wait century or more for the trees to grow and fall.

The Squaxin Island Tribe recently built a series of logjams along Skookum Creek, and we’re already seeing the results.  Juvenile salmonids prefer the cover of the logs and arrived in large numbers the day after we completed the jams and they continue to seek refuge there.

The logjams that we built will bridge the gap until a few thousand trees we planted around the creek grow large enough to naturally build logjams.  This is the same sort of thing that we should do on the Deschutes.