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Update: Puget Sound Nearshore Study Year-1

Hood Canal 9With summer now here, the last juvenile chum salmon migrants departed to offshore waters and the ocean putting an end to year-1 of Wild Fish Conservancy’s nearshore juvenile fish use assessment of Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This study—which began last January with the estuarine arrival of the first outmigrant fry of Hood Canal’s summer chum population—is serving to investigate current nearshore habitat use by juvenile salmonids within the study region, and to help inform the recovery strategy and project selection process for this genetically distinct population of chum salmon which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the late 1990s.

Throughout the five-month duration of the year-1 study, WFC staff biologists and volunteers sampled nearly 50 sites on a weekly basis utilizing beach seines and fyke nets to document use of various nearshore habitats by threatened Hood Canal summer chum and to differentiate preferences in habitat selection relative to the more robust fall population. This study is the first of its kind, making use of genetic analyses to distinguish between outmigrant fry of the two chum populations which visually cannot be discerned in the field.

In all conditions—from wind, snow, rain, sun, and sleet—WFC crews tackled the entirety of the study region aboard three outboard aluminum skiffs. With invaluable assistance from many brave and dedicated volunteers, WFC ensured that each of the 50 sites was sampled weekly for the highest quality of scientific data.

Beginning at the turn of the new year,Hood Canal 10 volunteers Julie Fix, Noah Levine, Gregory Smart, Chris Rice, and Kristen Slodysko played an instrumental role in documenting the arrival Hood Canal summer chum fry to estuarine waters of the region. With summer chum adults spawning from August through early October, juveniles of this population generally emerge from the gravel of their natal rivers and migrate immediately downstream from December through March making for harsh and challenging sampling conditions in the field.

Nevertheless, these dedicated volunteers remained persistent and positive throughout various winter storms. Hauling nets, assisting in juvenile fish ID, and gathering non-lethal fin clips for genetic analysis, volunteers enabled WFC staff to secure the data required for this difficult analysis of nearshore juvenile fish use.

Hood Canal 11Large numbers of chum were documented in March and April with the peak of the summer chum outmigration to the nearshore and the arrival of the more robust fall chum population (which generally spawns from late October through January). At this time, the challenges of winter weather gave way to the challenge of safely handling thousands of juvenile salmon and other nearshore species between sampling sets and releasing them unharmed at each of the 50 sites. Volunteers Julie Fix, Graham Redman, and Joe Verreli were essential in assisting WFC staff through lengthy and demanding work days in the field to the completion of the year-1 study with the departure of the final outmigrant chum fry from the nearshore to offshore waters and the ocean in early June.

With the arrival of snow, wind, and rain next January, WFC staff and volunteers will once again put on their parkas, goggles, and waders to initiate year-2 sampling of nearshore estuarine habitats of Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Due in large part to the selfless commitment of volunteers and interns in 2016 and 2017, the Washington State Salmon Recovery Board will have an improved understanding of the Hood Canal summer chum population and a better means to develop a recovery strategy appropriate for this genetically distinct and unique life history of chum salmon.

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