Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has a dual mission, restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. As such, we recognize the important role of hatcheries in the context of degraded freshwater habitat and our fellow community members who have rights, needs, and passion for fishing.
At the same time, we are aware of the potential and ongoing negative impacts of hatcheries, and we are cognizant that hatchery fish also need quality habitat to be productive. Therefore, we are wary of the perspective that simply increasing production in our existing hatchery programs is a fix to our low salmon abundance. Without a supportive ecosystem, more juvenile hatchery fish released may not equate to more salmon returning to our waters as adults. Further, even if increased hatchery production provides short-term gains, its impacts could leave people, salmon, whales, and our shared ecosystem worse off in the long run.
Our ultimate goal will always be sustainable wild salmon runs, but this will take decades of work, deeper investment, and strong attention to impacts of a changing climate. It also simply may not be feasible in some heavily urbanized areas. In the meantime, hatcheries remain a necessary tool that must be continually honed in response to new science.
The divide between people who are “pro” and “anti” hatchery is growing, and LLTK is labeled as either depending on who you ask. This polarization is unfortunate because, like many things, progress towards abundant salmon runs will be won through evaluation, understanding, common sense, compromise, and relentless improvement…not by picking sides.
We would like to take this opportunity to share our thoughts about hatcheries based on our 30+ years of history with them, and some of the issues that are intertwined with hatchery management.
LLTK has a history with hatcheries.
In the 1980s, LLTK’s first project was to transform a traditional hatchery on the Wishkah River near Grays Harbor into a workshop with multiple fish-rearing strategies targeting wild fish recovery. Since then, we have been involved with assessing, operating, and experimenting with hatcheries and transforming their management.
We currently manage two hatcheries. Our Glenwood Springs facility on Orcas Island is focused on supplementing Chinook salmon in the San Juans and the Strait of Georgia for harvest by humans and orca whales. Here, we are conducting experiments to improve the effectiveness of hatchery production, with a goal of higher survival rates at sea and larger returning fish. We also support a kokanee fishery in Cascade Lake and rear kokanee from Lake Sammamish for a wild population recovery program.
The second hatchery in Lilliwaup on Hood Canal is focused on rebuilding salmon and steelhead populations at severe risk of extinction. Our work here contributes to recovery efforts that include improved hatchery management, habitat restoration, and controlled harvest, with the combined goal of ultimately removing these populations from federal endangered species listings and restoring them to harvestable levels. This facility has shown success working with steelhead, Chinook, and summer chum. Hood Canal summer chum is one of only two salmon populations in Washington trending towards delisting under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In addition to operating these hatcheries, from the late 1990s through 2010, LLTK facilitated Hatchery Reform, a bipartisan Congressional effort to help align hatchery production with wild fish recovery. The objective was to reduce risks hatcheries pose to wild fish while balancing the need to satisfy tribal treaty rights and commercial and recreational harvest goals. The Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) – an independent panel of academic, federal, tribal and state scientists– was formed and charged with reviewing all hatchery programs in Puget Sound and Coastal Washington. The panel then provided recommendations to state, tribal and federal managers for creating sustainable harvest and conservation goals for salmon populations and managing natural and hatchery production toward meeting those goals. They also provided guidance on how to monitor, evaluate, and adaptively manage hatchery programs in accordance with the best available science.
The HSRG recommendations included promoting adaptation of natural and hatchery populations to local conditions, minimizing adverse genetic interactions and competition between hatchery- and natural-origin fish, minimizing the effects of hatchery facilities on the surrounding ecosystem, and maximizing the survival of hatchery fish. On-the-ground, these recommendations were tailored to the specific watershed in which a hatchery operates.
Hatchery Reform was a fundamental shift from viewing a hatchery as an isolated fish production factory to hatcheries as an integrated part of Northwest salmon ecosystems. Some of the recommended actions for improving hatcheries have not been fully implemented, limiting the effectiveness of Hatchery Reform. Additionally, gauging the success of Hatchery Reform is a long-term effort across multiple generations of salmon, complicated by a changing physical environment, climate and aquatic ecosystem. Therefore, we believe tribal, state and federal managers should continue to focus on implementing the principles and recommendations of Hatchery Reform while simultaneously evaluating and adjusting these actions to manage our hatcheries in the context of performance, new science, laws and treaties, and societal goals related to hatchery and wild fish populations.
LLTK is very concerned with the future of both hatchery and wild fish in the Pacific Northwest.
Severe declines in US and Canadian Chinook fisheries and survival of hatchery and wild fish in the ocean started well before cost-driven and ESA-related reductions in hatchery production in Washington State. Something in the marine environment changed drastically during the 1980s, and the impacts continue to affect both hatchery and wild salmon. Now environmental conditions in freshwater and marine environments are becoming less favorable and reliable for salmon production, complicating management in Washington State and across the entire Pacific Northwest.
The number of hatchery Chinook salmon released into Puget Sound has been reduced since the 1980s. But because the marine survival of Chinook, coho, and steelhead from the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia) has dropped significantly over the last forty years, we are not convinced that simply increasing hatchery production will result in a commensurate increase in the number of returning adult salmon. In fact, “business as usual” hatchery practices may become increasingly less effective as we face new environmental challenges.
The Salish Sea marine environment has changed in fundamental ways, and our salmon and steelhead populations may not be keeping up. Through the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, LLTK and our US and Canadian partners have worked together to investigate the changes and what we might be able to do about it. Factors affecting food supply–like climate change–and predation appear to be the most important challenges for juvenile salmon and steelhead populations in the Salish Sea, while problems such as nearshore and estuary habitat loss, contaminants, and disease also impact specific populations in some areas. A thorough report of these results will soon be available at www.marinesurvivalproject.com. We already have begun working with our partners to test solutions to many of these problems.
LLTK also strongly believes that there needs to be an initiative to not only protect but to increase the diversity of our salmon and steelhead, both hatchery and wild populations, to have an abundant resource now and into the future. About 40% of the wild Puget Sound Chinook populations have gone extinct, a large portion of which were earlier returning spring Chinook. Today, fewer than 10% of Puget Sound Chinook return in the spring. Habitat loss and hatcheries have also affected the genetic diversity of existing Puget Sound Chinook, making them more homogenous. These impacts have removed the diversity that had developed to survive changes in climate and physical conditions over the centuries. Luckily, studies show there are still significant remnants of genetic diversity in our naturally spawning populations. There is also emerging evidence that genes that control size, return timing, and other characteristics that were historically more variable are conserved in hatchery (and presumably wild) salmon, and that it may be possible to express these characteristics again through experimentation and natural processes.
Releases of juvenile Chinook from hatcheries have become less variable as well: since the 1970s, hatchery release windows have narrowed. Now, most Chinook are released into the Salish Sea around the third week of May. This differs substantially from wild Chinook which typically have prolonged, bi-modal outmigration periods with peaks in February-March and May-June.
Lower life-history variability and loss of genetic diversity, including the change in balance of early and late adult return timing in our aggregate Chinook population (hatchery and wild, combined), may be setting these fish up for reduced success as climate and conditions change rapidly in the region. These environmental changes impact some areas and times of the year more than others. Diversity in salmon populations and variability in outmigration timing may spread our odds of success so that if one group of fish struggles, there are still others to meet our societal and environmental needs. In addition, other species in the ecosystem rely on salmon as prey throughout the year, such as our endangered Southern resident orcas.
Hatcheries need to be the best they’ve ever been.
LLTK understands that approximately 80% of the Chinook that return to Washington State are currently hatchery-origin.Given that we must balance the reality of extensive habit loss with our need to meet fisheries obligations, tribal treaty rights, and orca recovery goals, it is likely that hatcheries will continue to be a dominant form of salmon production in the Northwest.
This does not mean we should simply increase hatchery production to counter habitat loss. Instead, for the sake of the environment, and our tax dollars and fishing license fees, the quality of hatchery production is of utmost importance. We need to continuously experiment based on our understanding of salmon and how they respond to their ecosystem. U.S. and Canadian scientists and hatchery managers are working to test hatchery practices that may improve marine survival and increase the size of fish that return to our waters as adults– both widely acknowledged problems. Trial efforts to restore lost diversity in wild populations are also showing promise, for example, re-introducing spring Chinook in the North Fork of the Skokomish River. These sorts of efforts need to be supported and expanded.
If used properly–with appropriate production goals, a focus on factors affecting productivity, and well-managed risks–hatcheries can sustainably meet harvest needs and conservation objectives in the face of significant and ongoing habitat constraints. Continual updates and improvements to operations based on new science, refined standards, and an appreciation for new environmental realities like climate change should be a consistent part of good management. This will require ongoing investment, effective and adequate monitoring, mutual trust and cooperation, and patience.
Opinions on hatcheries aside, we should all be working towards better habitat.
All salmon, hatchery and wild alike, need healthy habitat and clean, cold water. Increased focus is needed on habitat recovery and removing barriers to fish migration. These actions are critically important, but tragically underfunded. Conservative estimates suggest that only 20-25% of habitat actions needed to recover salmon and provide sustainable fisheries are funded. At this pace, we are hopeless to keep up with our rate of land development or even rebound from current impacts in the face of a changing climate.
Understanding that we will never have the funding to do everything immediately, we must prioritize strategically. Because our Chinook migrate from Puget Sound up the coast, the success of fisheries from Oregon to Alaska are related to protections for a few very weak wild Chinook populations in Puget Sound. Habitat recovery priorities should in part be guided by the specific recovery needs for these salmon populations.
The bottom line…
LLTK recognizes and accepts the central role of hatcheries in supporting fishing opportunities here in Washington State, now and in the future. We recognize the intense problems for fishing communities associated with reduced returns of salmon and steelhead to Northwest rivers. We recognize that ESA listings for southern resident orcas and salmon make managing fisheries more difficult. But these challenges can be met. They must be.
As the world changes around us, wild and hatchery populations that may have been successful and able to support abundant fisheries in 1960 are proving to be less successful in 2020. We are convinced that just doing more of the same thing won’t yield the results we seek. Attempting to manage hatcheries in ways that ignore fundamental changes to the environment, new scientific findings, or competing priorities isn’t productive. We need more salmon diversity, critical analysis including effective monitoring, and determination to relentlessly improve on what we are doing today.
LLTK is advancing science and implementing solutions while we work to build a coalition of interested people and organizations to directly address these challenges based on science, rights, economics, and goals that leave our grandchildren with a better environment and more fishing opportunities.
 Partners in this effort include Hood Canal Coordinating Council and their member organizations, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, NOAA, WDFW, and others.
 See www.hatcheryreform.us for more information. In 2006, the HSRG went on to evaluate all hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin and many in California, facilitated by another party. LLTK continued working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop their own Hatchery Reform recommendations for their Northwest salmon and steelhead programs until 2010.
 NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-78 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service Independent Populations of Chinook Salmon in Puget Sound July 2006
 Losee et al. 2019. Changing salmon: An analysis of body mass, abundance, survival, and productivity trends across 45 years in Puget Sound. Fish and Fisheries 00: 1-18.
 Ruckelshaus, M.H., K.P. Currens, W.H. Graeber, R.R. Fuerstenberg, K. Rawson, N.J. Sands, and J.B. Scott. 2006. Independent populations of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. U.S. Dept. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-NWFSC-78, 125 p.
 McKinney et al. 2020. A mobile sex-determining region, male-specific haplotypes, and rearing
environment influence age at maturity in Chinook salmon. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.23.056093
 Nelson BW, AP Shelton, JH Anderson, MJ Ford, and EJ Ward. 2019. Ecological implications of changing hatchery practices for Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea. Ecosphere. 10(11):e02922.
 This project is made possible by the Skokomish Tribe and Tacoma Public Utilities.
In partnership with PCC Community Markets and Hama Hama Oysters, LLTK hosted a webinar on December 16th where we stepped into the culinary world of salmon. In this webinar, we discussed salmon sustainability with Aimee Simpson, Director of Advocacy & Product Sustainability at PCC, and hear more about preparing salmon from Sara Harvey, the Culinary Operations & Saloon Manager at Hama Hama Oysters. Learn more about PCC’s sustainability program here and see Sara’s entire meal recipe below. Watch the webinar below.
1. 2 hours before dinner – soak the cedar board, preheat the oven to 400
2. Make the mostarda (see below) – set that to the side
3. Since you’ve opened the bottle of wine for the mostarda, pour yourself a glass
4. 1 hour before dinner – Boil the potatoes
5. Clean the greens
6. Get the salmon set up on the board
7. 30 minutes out – throw the potatoes in the oven
8. Start sautéing the greens
9. When the potatoes are almost done (about 15 minutes), throw the salmon in
10. The greens should be done by now
11. Pull the potatoes out
12. Pull the salmon out (about 10 minutes)
13. You definitely need another glass of wine at this point
14. Dinner is ready
Cedar Plank Salmon
– cedar plank
– salmon filet (find your nearest PCC here)
– fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, fresh bay – what are you using in the mostarda?)
– olive oil
1. Soak the cedar board for an hour in cold, clean water – pat dry with a towel
2. Clean the fish – leaving the skin on, and removing the pinbones
3. Lay herbs down on the cedar board, lay the salmon skin side down over the
4. Salt the fish lightly, and drizzle olive oil over the top
5. Roast at 400 for about 10 minutes, or until the salmon starts to show little beads
of white on the edges, and the fattest part of the fish is warm in the center
(cooked to medium)
6. Remove from the oven leaving on the cedar board, and lay a few lemon rings on
top of the fish while it rests
Option A – Make this sexy, more complicated Blackberry Mostarda
– about a quart of mixed berries – fresh or frozen
– a half cup of shallot, minced
– a cup of sugar – we like brown, any will work (try piloncillo, coconut, or palm)
– a cup of honey (or maple syrup)
– one half cup mustard seeds
– one quarter cup of whole grain mustard
– two tablespoons of dijon mustard
– a pinch of red chili flake
– a cup vinegar – raw apple cider is great, red or white wine will totally work – stay
away from balsamic or distilled
– a cup of red wine (tip: if you wouldn’t drink it, today – don’t cook with it)
– a generous tablespoon of chopped winter herbs – sage, thyme, rosemary all work
(though not necessarily together for this one)
– salt to taste, add towards the end
1. Add sugar, honey, vinegar, and wine to a medium sized heavy bottom pot – bring
to a gentle simmer
2. Add the mustard seeds, and cook for 5 minutes to soften them
3. Fold in the mustards, the shallot, and the chili flake
4. Fold in the berries and cook gently until the fruit begins to break up (not mushing
completely) – about 15 minutes over low heat
5. Remove from heat, mix gently, season with salt – and cool to room temperature
Option B – Throw plain blackberries on top of the cooked salmon and drizzle with a little
balsamic vinegar – *chef kiss*
Braised Winter Greens
– one bunch kale (for 2 people)
– three garlic cloves, large, chopped
– a large shallot or a small sweet onion, sliced thin
– one ounce olive oil (that’s two tablespoons if you’re playing along)
– one quarter cup chicken stock
– one tablespoon fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
– salt to taste
1. Clean the kale by stripping the leaves off the stem, and tearing roughly
2. Wash and shake dry, don’t stress it too much
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add the garlic and onion and
cook until browning and fragrant
4. Add the rinsed & torn kale, the pan will make all kinds of exciting sounds as the
residual water meets the oil, and creates steam – this will help wilt the greens
without overcooking them
5. Using a pair of tongs, toss the kale around until it starts to darken and stops
taking up so much room in the pan
6. Add the lemon juice or vinegar
7. Add the chicken stock
8. Cook until liquid is mostly gone and the greens are tender – cover if necessary or
add more chicken stock / water if you need.
9. Add a knob of butter at the end if you’re feeling decadent
10. Salt to taste
– A couple pounds of fingerling potatoes – little reds, or baby yellows would work
– Bay leaf, thyme, garlic – for the blanch pot
– Olive Oil
– Flake Salt
1. Put the potatoes, whole, in the pot
2. Fill it up with cold water
3. Add some sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, a couple garlic cloves – if nothing else, add a
generous amount of salt, the water should taste like the ocean
4. Bring the pot up to a boil, and gently simmer until the biggest potato in the pot is
5. Drain and DO NOT RINSE – pick the herbs and garlic out and toss them
6. Leave them in the colander for a while – let them steam out – this is critical
7. While the potatoes are steaming in the sink, preheat your oven to 400
8. With a wooden spoon or your hands if you have no pain receptors, gently
sploosh the potatoes, so they smash down without breaking up totally – like a ball
of cookie dough at grandma’s house.
9. Generously oil a pan with cooking quality olive oil (not extra virgin – the smoke
point on that stuff is too low for what we’re about to do)
10. Put the smashed potatoes in the pan – drizzle more olive oil over the top – I
recommend about a half cup of oil total and toss them around to make sure it’s
evenly dispersed. **This is where you really need to look at yourself and ask how much of a
good thing is too much today, because you can add practically as much
fat as you like, with the result varying from nice roasted potatoes with a
little olive oil on them, to practically confited tender sodden nuggets of
flaky starchy fatty goodness with crispy skins peeling back and curling in
the oven’s heat . You drive this bus.
Recovering salmon in our urban environments is more than correcting past environmental damage. We’re learning lessons and pioneering new methods so that growing Puget Sound communities and salmon can live together for centuries.
Over 2 million people live in King County which makes it one of the most populous counties in the Pacific Northwest. The 6 distinct watersheds in the county face a litany of environmental problems from the headwaters to the marine environment: high water temperatures, migration barriers, contaminated runoff, hardened shorelines, degraded estuary habitat, and legacy contamination.
Since 2018, Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has been working with partners in King County in a collective effort to ensure salmon thrive in our backyards. Here are some of the projects we’re working on in King County.
Improving Water Quality in the Lake Washington Ship Canal
In the Lake Washington Ship Canal, summer water temperatures can reach lethal levels for salmon leading to delayed migration, more parasites and disease and can even kill fish directly. Every migrating salmon in this watershed has to pass through the canal twice in its life and addressing this problem is an important step to save threatened runs and bring tribal and recreational salmon fishing back to Seattle.
To tackle this huge problem, LLTK is convening partners to build a common understanding of the problem based on the latest science and explore the potential options to address it. By 2022, we intend to have a completed report which is needed to guide a feasibility study and design process.
LLTK’s role in this project is made possible by a grant from King County and in-kind support from Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed – WRIA 8.
Restoration Effectiveness in the Duwamish Estuary
Working waterfronts and waterways are essential components of our economy and are fundamental to our regional identity. However, over the past century of urban industrialization, the Duwamish estuary has lost 97% of the habitat it once provided these fish. LLTK’s Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has confirmed that healthy estuaries are a critical need for young Chinook salmon: without functional estuary habitat, young salmon are less likely to survive to adulthood.
LLTK is leading a new partnership with Vigor and the University of Washington (UW)’s Wetland Ecosystem Team to restore habitat along the Harbor Island shoreline within the Duwamish estuary. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of a blue-green infrastructure approach to create functional estuary habitat for juvenile salmon along working shorelines. The partnership between LLTK, Vigor, and UW exemplifies collaboration across sectors to support the economy and environment. Lessons learned from this project will support future restoration projects within urban waterways.
Saving Lake Sammamish Kokanee
Kokanee are non-anadromous sockeye salmon, meaning they spend their entire lives in freshwater. Kokanee are culturally significant, important to regional
biodiversity, and have existed in Lake Sammamish for centuries. In the 2000s, one of the two runs in the area went extinct and the second is now on the brink of extinction.
A larger group of stakeholders is supporting a broad set of actions, including habitat restoration projects, to help recover these fish. Fresh water predation, warm water, and lack of habitat are some of the biggest problems facing these fish. In 2019, King County contacted LLTK with hope to apply our successful conservation hatchery programs used to rebuild steelhead and summer chum populations in Hood Canal, for Kokanee in Lake Sammamish. Kokanee were flown to our Glenwood Springs facility on Orcas Island where they are given cool, clean water to grow into adults and eventually spawned. In time. they will be reintroduced to Lake Sammamish to help rebuild the population.
Addressing Mortality at the Ballard Locks
Seals and sea lions are known to exploit natural and human-made features to consume thousands of salmon, the Ballard Locks being a prime example. Marine mammals are regularly seen planted in front of or inside the fish ladder, feeding on salmon trying to find a route through the Locks. Many fish don’t make it past
the Locks and some are injured so badly that they are unlikely to make it to the spawning ground. During the 1980s, virtually every strategy was implemented to separate marine mammals from fish with no success. Today, salmon are at some of their lowest numbers and steelhead are functionally extinct in the basin.
LLTK has identified a new device that has shown promising results in other situations, and we’re working with partners to deploy and evaluate it at the Locks. The device is expected to be safe for marine mammals and salmon because it uses underwater sounds at modest volumes outside the hearing range of whales or salmon. The sound startles seals and sea lions out of the area. If effective, it could be an immensely valuable tool to keep marine mammals away from salmon at migration bottlenecks.
Humans have relied on salmon for as long as we have lived on the coastlines and rivers of the northern hemisphere – or the ‘salmonshpere’ as it is starting to be known. From the native peoples of the northwestern edge of the Pacific Ocean to the Salish people of Puget Sound, salmon were the currency and lifeblood of their daily existence and culture. This week in 2020, as we celebrate Earth Day and renew our connection to the natural environment, we do so in the spirit of native peoples who have understood for millennia that salmon are a gift from nature to be recognized, honored and celebrated.
This 50th anniversary of Earth Day is a good time to reflect on our relationship to this keystone species, what their plight and recovery tells us about our own condition, and where we see hope on the horizon. On the first Earth Day in 1970, concerns were mounting here and around the world about rivers on fire and unbreathable air. But salmon harvests in Pacific Northwest (BC, WA, OR and CA) were still relatively robust. Fortified by millions of hatchery fish and nurtured by a streak of good ocean conditions, harvests in the region numbered between 35 and 60 million fish. And in 1974, Tribes successfully reclaimed their treaty rights to fish in their usual and accustomed areas through the Boldt Decision, and were designated co-managers of the resource, along with the state of Washington.
However, happy days were short-lived here for people and salmon. In the late 1980s, salmon populations and harvests started to plummet. By the late 1990s when wild Chinook, chum, coho, sockeye and steelhead were being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), salmon populations in the Northwest were already extinct in as much as 40% of their former spawning areas, and harvests were reduced to a quarter of the highs from previous decades. In a stark reality check, the harvest of all salmon species combined in British Columbia last year was the lowest on record, only 1.6% of peak harvest 35 years ago. A combination of factors led to this decline, and while harvest was immediately ratcheted back, other threats are requiring significant work to pin down and address.
The community response in Washington state to salmon ESA listings was both immediate and novel. We would take on the responsibility to execute our own plans for recovering habitat for salmon, watershed by watershed, community by community. Tribes, local governments, forest managers, business and NGOs all contributed. This bottoms up, “can do” approach became known as the “Washington Way”, and has guided recovery efforts since 1999. The critical need now is adequate funding to implement.
Presaging this hands on approach, Long Live the Kings (LLTK) was founded in 1986 by salmon advocates wondering if they could sustainably supplement salmon populations by working in concert with habitat restoration and fisheries managers to help restore wild salmon and support sustainable fisheries. LLTK started out by running three novel field facilities, two based on natural rearing techniques and one focused entirely on rescuing wild salmon populations at risk of extinction. LLTK’s trajectory since then has mirrored the evolution of salmon management and recovery. We have led on important and consequential efforts like guiding hatchery reform, understanding poor marine survival and infusing recovery plans with community input and data on climate change. For over three decades, LLTK has worked to advance science, improve management and implement solutions for salmon and people.
On this 50th Earth Day, let’s take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go, and let this be the first day of the next 50 years protecting our salmon, our communities, and our planet.
Microplastics in our water is a relatively new problem and many are rightfully concerned. Spurred by encouragement from the broader LLTK community, we reviewed the available research to determine if marine plastics pose a threat to salmon survival. The following information is based on studies assessing marine plastic effects on zooplankton and fish conducted inside and outside of the Salish Sea. We looked specifically at zooplankton and forage fish when reviewing available research because they are important food for salmon and may play a role in transferring plastics through marine food webs.
As many of us know, plastic is a pervasive human-caused pollutant in the marine environment. Plastics can enter the marine environment either from marine-based activities like fishing, aquaculture, and shipping, or land-based activities that result in wastewater effluent, runoff, or river discharge (Desforges et al. 2014). When we’re thinking about plastics affecting salmon, size matters. Smaller sized plastics less than 5 millimeters, also known as microplastics, are concerning because they are the most likely to be consumed by juvenile and adult salmon either intentionally (they can look like food) or accidentally.
Upon consumption, marine plastics can physically and chemically affect zooplankton and fish. Physical effects from eating it can obstruct their mouths and throats, block their digestive track, artificially fill their stomachs, and be absorbed into other parts of their body (Cedervall et al. 2012; Cole et al. 2013; Rochman et al. 2013; Desforges et al. 2014, 2015). Chemical effects may also occur from the toxic ingredients in the plastic (e.g., petroleum products) or from environmental chemicals that attached to the plastic from seawater (e.g., PCBs) (Cole et al. 2013; Rochman et al. 2013; Hipfner et al. 2018). It’s important to note that effects from plastics may be unique among species, types of contaminants, and types and sizes of plastics (Desforges et al. 2015; Ašmonaitė et al. 2018).
Despite marine plastic pollution being a widely known environmental issue, very little field research has been done in our region to assess how salmon are affected after consuming marine plastic either directly or via their food. Most of the research assessing effects has been laboratory-based and results are often varied. In 2019, researchers performed a thorough review of plastic effects on marine organisms and found an effect was more likely to be detected at higher concentrations of microplastics and mortality occurred at extreme concentrations that are not typically found in the environment (Bucci et al. 2019). This review indicates that field studies may provide a more realistic understanding of exposure and consumption rates for target species, such as salmon.
Along the British Columbia coastline, two different field studies assessed marine plastic consumption rates for zooplankton and forage fish, important food for salmon. In the first study, scientists determined about 3% of copepods and around 6% of euphausiids (AKA krill) were eating microplastics and that there was no correlation between the amount of microplastics eaten and the amount in the seawater (Desforges et al. 2015). In the second study, scientists determined that very few forage fish, sand lance (1.5%) and herring (2.0%), had eaten microplastics (Hipfner et al. 2018). This research also suggested that larger forage fish are less likely to consume plastic. Together, these studies indicate that zooplankton and forage fish are most likely NOT conduits for indirect plastic consumption in salmon on the outer coast of British Columbia.
As was mentioned previously, very little is known about the impacts of marine plastics on salmon either through direct consumption or via their food (pers. comm. A. Spanjer 2019). The first and only field study regarding plastic consumption rates by salmon in the Salish Sea determined juvenile Chinook consume an average of 1.15 microplastic pieces per day (Collicutt et al. 2018). At this rate of consumption, it is unlikely to lead to significant mortality events. This study also found no significant relationship between the amount of microplastics found in seawater and sediment compared to the amount consumed by the juvenile Chinook. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is currently doing a laboratory-based study examining how long polyester fiber is retained in the gut of juvenile Chinook after consumption, but that research is currently ongoing (pers. comm. A. Spanjer 2019).
Based on the available research investigating marine plastic effects on zooplankton and fish, we can conclude that marine plastics do not currently pose a significant threat to salmon survival in the Salish Sea. However, marine plastics will continue to persist as pollution on land and in our oceans if we do not take action to reduce them. Ellen MacArthur with the World Economic Forum estimated that the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050. Whether her estimate is accurate or not, we can all do our part to help reduce plastic pollution. Please see below for a list of five ways you can reduce marine plastic pollution:
- Join a beach cleanup – Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and The Surfrider Foundation are frequently hosting beach and lake cleanups to reduce the amount of debris in our waterways.
- Remember your reusable containers – Actively using your reusable water bottle, coffee mug, or to-go containers will not only reduce plastic but can save you money in the long run.
- Buy microbead-free products –Microbeads are too tiny to be filtered out at the wastewater treatment facility. Buying personal products that do not contain microbeads will reduce the amount of microplastics entering our oceans.
- Reduce clothes washing – When we wash our clothes, they shed microfibers that do not get filtered out, like microbeads. By reducing how often we wash our clothes, we can lower the number of microfibers that are being released. We’re not saying wear dirty clothes, but if you can, wear items more than once and choose natural fiber clothing (these fibers will biodegrade over time).
- Make informed decisions – As consumers, we can make conscientious decisions about the products we buy and the companies we support. This can take the form of buying items in bulk rather than individually wrapped items, as well as the packaging our purchases come in. By being aware of how much plastic your household generates, you can find ways to reduce it and ultimately lower your carbon footprint.
Ašmonaitė, G., Larsson, K., Undeland, I., Sturve, J., Almroth, B.E. 2018. Size matters: Ingestion of relatively large microplastics contaminated with environmental pollutants posed little risk for fish health and fillet quality. Environ. Sci. Technol., 52: 14381 – 14391.
Bucci, K., Tulio, M., Rochman, C.M. 2019. What is known and unknown about the effects of plastic pollution: A meta-analysis and systematic review. Ecological Society of America, doi:10.1002/eap.2044.
Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Fileman, E., Halsband, C., Goodhead, R., Moger, J., Galloway, T.S. 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environ. Sci. Technol.,47: 6646 – 6655.
Collicutt, B., Juanes, F., Dudas, S.E. 2019. Microplastics in juvenile Chinook salmon and their nearshore environments on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Environmental Pollution, 244: 135 – 142.
Desforges, J.W., Galbraith, M., Dangerfield, N., Ross, P.S. 2014. Widespread distribution of microplastics in subsurface seawater in the NE Pacific Ocean. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 79: 94 – 99.
Desforges, J.W., Galbraith, M., Ross, P.S. 2015. Ingestion of microplastics by zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 69: 320 – 330.
Gall, S.C. and Thompson, R.C. 2015. The impact of debris on marine life. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 92: 170 – 179.
Hipfner, J.M., Galbraith, M., Tucker, S., Studholme, K.R., Domalik, A.D., Pearson, S.F., Good, T.P., Ross, P.S., Hodum, P. 2018. Two forage fishes as potential conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in Northeastern Pacific Ocean food webs. Environmental Pollution, 239: 215 – 222.
Rochman, C.M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T., Teh, S.J. 2013. Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Scientific Reports, 3: 3263.
The salmon lost a king this week. The world lost a beacon of civility, and a guide to integrity and commitment. And Long Live the Kings lost a leader and a friend.
Bill Ruckelshaus was a member of our board of directors from 1996 to 2015. He was a pragmatic optimist, a respecter of science, and supremely skilled at pulling people with disparate points of view together to craft a new approach.
He strongly believed communities should be empowered, and if needed pushed, to work as one to solve their own problems. To save salmon and restore its populations to abundance was something no single group, government agency, or strategy could accomplish. “It’s not enough,” he used to say, “to stand on shore and throw rocks at the ship of state as it passes by.” To him, bringing the salmon home and ensuring they had a home to come to is the work of all of us, together.
We will miss his great good humor, his engagement at board meetings and events, his inspiration, and his support. With Bill aboard, anything and everything was possible.
Our sympathies and condolences go to Jill Ruckelshaus and the family.
We’ll treasure Bill’s friendship. For the long run.
Prepared by Barbara Cairns, LLTK Executive Director 1997-2010, and Jacques White, current LLTK Executive Director.
As we have heard time and again over the last year, our southern resident orcas are in trouble. There simply isn’t enough salmon to support them, and other factors make this deficit more consequential. They consume fat reserves filled with accumulated toxics while they desperately forage for salmon, a task made more difficult by our noisy waters. It’s a troubling combination of challenges, but salmon recovery is likely to have the largest impact.
Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has worked for decades on efforts to the increase survival and population size of salmon and steelhead that provide the prime sustenance for our orcas. Last year, in response to worrying population declines, Governor Inslee convened the Southern Resident Orca Task Force to address the crisis. LLTK has participated from the start of this effort as the only salmon recovery nonprofit at the table. Since then, orca recovery has occupied much of the region’s attention, and LLTK is using our salmon expertise to bring our resident orcas more food.
In November, the task force delivered 36 first-year recommendations, which the Governor and state agencies advanced to the state legislature for approval and funding. Notably, over 20% of these recommendations were influenced by LLTK’s work, mostly driven by ongoing findings from the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project.
In what is being acknowledged as the best session for environmental legislation in four decades, this spring the legislature passed key orca policy protections related to noise, vessel traffic, toxics, oil spills and shoreline habitat. Both the Governor and the legislature deserve praise for these very positive outcomes.
But not all of the needed actions have been implemented, and there is still much work to do. Shovel-ready Chinook recovery projects have only received about a quarter of what is necessary over the past decade. So clearly, much more effort is needed to fully fund salmon recovery, LLTK is working with our partners to secure funds to support this work.
To this end, LLTK again travelled to Washington, DC this past May as a part of ‘Puget Sound Day on the Hill’ and ‘Salmon Day on the Hill’, along with over 80 stakeholders from the west to meet with members of Congress and present the importance of a healthy Puget Sound and Pacific salmon recovery. During the DC visit, LLTK was invited to give a presentation on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project and facilitate a panel of NW restoration experts for the Congressional Estuarine Caucus, a group of elected officials invested in protecting important water bodies around the country. The trip resulted in increases in federal funding and renewed focus, as Congressman Derek Kilmer has requested to visit the LLTK Lilliwaup Field Station this summer.
Back in the Northwest, we are happy to announce that you helped us raise over $12M for the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, smashing our $10M goal for this ground-breaking international project. Results from the project have already been incorporated into National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Recovery Plan for federally listed Puget Sound steelhead, which will be released at the end of this year.
Our work with members of the Washington State Legislature is also proving to be successful. In the most recent legislative session, we helped secured $1.5M for the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project and $10M for the Middle Fork Dam removal. This dam removal project is supported by American Rivers, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the City of Bellingham and will provide access to 16 miles of previously blocked river habitat for federally listed Chinook and steelhead.
The Hood Canal Bridge Ecosystem Assessment is nearing completion for Phase 1 research. LLTK and project partners are working to synthesize and report on our findings, and are now beginning to plan for Phase 2, solutions testing. Preliminary Phase 1 results suggest that many steelhead experience the bridge as a physical barrier, delaying migration, and indicate predation by a deep-diving, warm-blooded animal. Predation may be associated with patterns of fish biomass, predator location, and localized water flow in surface waters near the bridge.
Survive the Sound, our education and outreach campaign that invites the public to track their favorite fish through an epic migration, completed its third year. The campaign has assisted LLTK in graphically and interactively communicating the impacts of the bridge on juvenile steelhead to the public. This year we quadrupled participation, and nearly 2,000 of the participants were educators who reported serving over 200,000 students! And over half of the educators surveyed reported that they were not covering salmon issues prior to participating in Survive the Sound. If you raced with us, did your fish survive? What did you learn? If you missed the campaign this year, you can still visit SurvivetheSound.org to pick your favorite fish and watch its migration.
Finally, LLTK is working with our state, tribal, federal, and nonprofit partners in the US and in Canada to perform limited experiments at hatcheries to see if we can improve the survival and size of returning Chinook. This could eventually benefit southern resident killer whales and fishers, and teach us lessons we can translate to wild fish recovery.
At our Glenwood Springs Hatchery, LLTK will be rearing experimental groups, in addition to our standard May release, that will be reared slowly and released later. Slow rearing is done in attempt to delay maturity down the road and return bigger, older fish. There is strong alignment between this effort and the findings of the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, the distribution and timing of releases could address potential issues of competition, predation or changes in food availability.
Clearly, LLTK is moving forward on many fronts to increase the abundance and resilience of salmon in our region, and by extension, hoping that our efforts are successful in providing more food for our southern resident orcas. Your significant support of our work has allowed LLTK to push the boundaries of what’s possible, moving ahead faster, taking bigger risks in more places, and having a bigger positive impact on our region and our future. Thank you for being a partner in our mission to save a Pacific Northwest icon.
Just a few weeks ago, we received word that there is new J-pod calf spotted in NW waters. This is reminder that we should have hope, that nature is resilient if we give it a chance. Thank you for being part of that hope, you give our salmon, steelhead and whales a chance to survive and thrive.
Harbor seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). At the same time, they are believed to be a significant predator of threatened Chinook salmon and could be competing with endangered southern resident killer whales. This poses a challenging management trade-off and data describing harbor seal’s historic impact on our food web, which would help guide this trade-off, is limited. By using old bone specimens stored at local museums and the scientific methods, researchers at University of Washington are uncovering more information.
Harbor seals experienced exponential growth in Puget Sound following the implementation of the MMPA, from historic lows of approximately 2,100 in 1972 before leveling off at the current population size of 18,000 (Jeffries et al. 2003). This change in predator abundance has been correlated to declines in forage fish and salmonid survival across the WA coast, which suggests harbor seals pose a threat to the recovery of endangered and vulnerable species in the region, including Chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales (Thomas et al. 2017).
However, this change in predator abundance also coincided with a broad-scale environmental regime shift known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in 1977/78, a phenomenon that has also been linked to productivity of fish species in WA, including salmon. Teasing apart these ecological drivers is challenging yet important for management of the Sound as an integrated system.
At the University of Washington, members of the Holtgrieve Ecosystem Ecology Lab, led by gradate student Megan Feddern, are trying to better understand the interactions between harbor seals, their prey and environmental changes to better inform management decisions from an ecosystem-based approach. They aim to do this by:
- Creating a dataset of where harbor seals have been feeding in the coastal WA food web over the past 100 years from museum skull specimens.
- Combine this dataset with other historic datasets of environmental drivers (Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Niño Southern Oscillation, sea surface temperature) and important harbor seal prey species (herring biomass, salmon populations, Pacific Hake biomass) to identify what ecological components drive harbor seal food web position.
The research is made possible using a recent methodological advancement called compound specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids. Scientists are able to measure the nitrogen isotope ratio (15N/14N) of eleven different amino acids preserved in bone collagen. A small piece of bone (50 mg) is decalcified to access preserved collagen and measure the 15N/14N of the amino acids contained within that collagen and calculate the food web position of the harbor seal that collagen came from. Certain amino acids, called trophic amino acids, show an increase in 15N relative to 14N as an animal feeds higher in the food web. In other words, they’re able to get a better idea whether seals are eating, for instance, more herring or salmon.
During the study, 150 museum harbor seal skull specimens from seals from 1920-2017 have been obtained and the 15N/14N of their collagen has been measured. Scientists now have estimates of harbor seal food web position from the Hood Canal and Puget Sound during that time period, which they are currently comparing to data sets describing different environmental drivers.
Stay tuned for the full results!
This article was created using a flyer from the University of Washington. View it here.
Anthony’s and Long Live the Kings began building a partnership in 2014. The restaurant’s founder, Budd Gould and his son Herb (CEO of Anthony’s), found that their vision to preserve the health and well-being of the seafood industry aligned perfectly with Long Live the Kings’ mission to recover wild salmon and steelhead. Budd’s other son, JJ, who is a retired Chief of Wildlife for the Idaho Fish and Game and a certified Wildlife Biologist, was nominated to join the Long Live the Kings’ Board of Directors in 2016. Our partnership has grown ever since.
When we introduced Survive the Sound to the team at Anthony’s, they wanted to help make this innovative campaign a reality. They were excited for opportunity to bring information about salmon recovery to students and the public. We’ve both known that passionate salmon conservationists are often born after enjoying and learning about this precious resource. Anthony’s saw the opportunity to help create this experience for their guest.
“Providing our guests and the rest of the public with accurate information on salmon and our environment is an important step to making better decisions that benefit future generations,” says Budd. “It is an honor and a privilege to be able to partner with an organization like Long Live the Kings that are so dedicated to this very mission.”
Long Live the Kings is thrilled to have a partner like Anthony’s to help bring our mission to a broader audience. The generosity and dedication from companies like Anthony’s allows us to push the boundaries of salmon recovery; to explore new ideas and take on new challenges. Anthony’s is a leader among the growing number of local companies who are setting a high bar for investments in their local environment, empowering us to protect and restore the Pacific Northwest we want to leave for our children.
Salmon are an important part of our life and diet, but we share this resource with many other species. Birds, seals, sea lions, bears, porpoise, whales, and other fish all depend on salmon for a portion of their diet. With salmon and steelhead populations at risk, many people are asking if too many mouths are at the salmon buffet.
In Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, Long Live the Kings and our partners are looking at the whole ecosystem to figure out what’s killing young salmon and steelhead on their migration through Puget Sound. In some cases, as few as 10% of the fish survive to reach the Pacific Ocean. Scientists refer to this problem as high juvenile marine mortality.
One aspect of our research considers whether salmon predators are contributing to high rates of juvenile marine mortality, but we’re finding that the story is much more complicated. Interestingly, human harvest of salmon isn’t a significant factor in the case of high juvenile marine mortality because humans aren’t allowed to harvest juvenile salmon and steelhead. That’s not to say that humans aren’t a major factor contributing to these salmon deaths. There is evidence to suggest that human activity and decisions are driving a number of problems: limited prey for young salmon, a lack of estuary habitat, contaminants, and disease.
Humans have even facilitated the increase in marine mammals through the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This important law has worked well to protect many marine mammals from harassment and death, but people are wondering if it’s worked too well for some species.
Current research suggests harbor seals are eating many salmon. In Puget Sound alone, the harbor seal population has increased three-fold since the 1980s, a time when our salmon survived at much higher rates (Jeffries et al. 2003). While we are still working to better understand their impact on salmon recovery, initial studies suggest seals and sea lions may be consuming two times as many Puget Sound salmon as are caught by humans, with seals being the primary consumer (Chasco et al. 2017).
If a seal boom is contributing to the further decline of already-threatened salmon and steelhead populations in Puget Sound, we need to answer more questions to address the problem. How many seals should there be? What should they be eating? Who’s eating them, or isn’t eating them? Are there factors that make it easier for these predators to hunt salmon? While we don’t have complete answers to these questions, and continued research is absolutely critical to making thoughtful decisions, our work has uncovered some new ideas which give us options to start investing in solutions.
Seals are opportunistic predators, but by analyzing their scat, we know their diets rely heavily on forage fish. Young salmon, steelhead, and forage fish often swim amongst each other in the areas where seals hunt. With declining forage fish populations, some scientists hypothesize that seals may end up eating more salmon and steelhead to compensate. This indicates that rebuilding forage fish populations could help rebalance the food web and take some pressure off of salmon and steelhead.
Transient killer whales are the primary predators for seals and they have been spending more time in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound, Strait or Georgia, and Strait of Juan de Fuca). Estimates suggest that transients eat about 1,090 seals from the Salish Sea each year. Their presence is helping to naturally control seal populations. Reducing noise pollution, contaminants, vessel collisions and preventing oil spills will help ensure that our waters are safer for these whales.
A number of factors may also make salmon and steelhead predators more successful.
- Barriers like the Hood Canal Bridge, Ballard Locks, and dams can slow the progress of migrating fish. Smart predators learn to take advantage of these situations.
- Consolidated releases from hatcheries may be acting like a dinner bell for predators. Studies have shown predators can change their behavior in response to large hatchery releases. Most Puget Sound hatchery Chinook are released during the same two-week window.
- Salmon and steelhead that are affected by contaminants or contract diseases may be slower and easier targets for predators. Just like humans, unhealthy fish have trouble operating at their best, which is very important during their arduous migration.
Long Live the Kings and our partners are working to address these factors, which could give salmon and steelhead a better chance of avoiding predators and making it to the Pacific Ocean.
Our research and approach to recovery looks at the big picture to implement lasting solutions that restore our ecosystem – an ecosystem that will thrive if given the chance. This approach requires thorough planning, considerable funding, and cooperation from others. But, if we’re going to save salmon and steelhead, we’re going to need to restore our ecosystem, and that starts by understanding it better.
Chasco et al. (2017) Estimates of Chinook salmon consumption in Washington State inland waters by four marine mammal predators from 1970 – 2015. DOI: 10.1139/cjfas-2016-0203
Jeffries et al. (2013) Trends and Status of Harbor Seals in Washington State: 1978-1999, Journal or Wildlife Management 67(1):208–219
Image Credit: Vancouver Aquarium. LLTK use “seal-packs” that help us research predator-prey interactions.