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.
Long Live the Kings and Seattle City Light have been proud partners in salmon recovery since LLTK’s inception. Together, we power projects around our region that help salmon and steelhead overcome the many challenges they face. This most recent City Light project in Stossel Creek is just the type of work we want to see our private, public, and nonprofit partners coming together to accomplish.
In 2015, Seattle City Light purchased and is in the process of restoring a 154-acre property along Stossel Creek, a tributary to the Tolt River in eastern King County, Washington. City Light purchased the property as part of its proactive Endangered Species Act Land Program, which purchases property containing important habitat for endangered and threatened fish species. This program was established by the City of Seattle in 1999 under Resolution 29905 to help restore and protect habitat for fish protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Stossel Creek is a tributary in the Snohomish River watershed approximately 30 miles east of Seattle, which provides important habitat for ESA-threatened steelhead and coho salmon. The City Light property contains over 3,500 feet of Stossel Creek as well as an additional 1,300 feet of an unnamed creek and wetlands. Steelhead and coho spend a significant portion of their life as juveniles in streams, so protecting or improving the creek habitat on the property can improve the water quality of the creek as well as the river.
The previous owner logged portions of the Stossel Creek property in 2012, which had not been replanted at the time of purchase. Erosion from the logged areas and dirt access roads may contribute sediment to streams where it can smother steelhead and coho redds, killing the eggs, or get trapped in fish gills, impairing breathing. Thus, key objectives in purchasing the property were to protect the wetlands, soils, and streamside vegetation and to reforest logged portions of the site. Trees provide shade that maintains cool water temperatures in streams and associated wetlands, a critical need particularly in the summer months. Trees also provide habitat for insects that are a food source to both fish species.
City Light looked for outside funding to aid with replanting the site, and in doing so developed a unique partnership with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Northwest Natural Resource Group, and Seattle Public Utilities (the Partners), to apply for and receive a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as well as funds from Carter Subaru of King County. As the Partners planned the replanting of the Stossel Creek property with the objective of reforesting the site, they took the long view of how the climate will change as the site matures. As climate changes, so too will ecosystems that are shaped by it. The Partners in this project used this understanding to plan a forest restoration project that takes into account the expected changes in climate to ultimately result in a more complex and resilient forest structure by the end of the century. Rather than reforest in a traditional way, this Stossel Creek site was planted using a climate-adapted approach.
The Partners’ approach included planting tree seedlings from seed sources originating from southwestern Oregon and northern California, where the climate is similar to the warmer and drier summer climate expected at the Stossel Creek site during the mid to late 21st century. These seedlings were planted alongside locally sourced Douglas-fir and Western redcedar. A total of seven different tree species native to the Pacific Northwest, both deciduous and coniferous, were planted to provide relatively high species diversity. This method increases the functional redundancy of a forest – meaning, forest resilience that comes from multiple species from different taxonomic groups playing similar roles in the ecosystem. Plantings were located away from natural regeneration and grouped by associations suitable for local site conditions such as soil type and aspect. Trees were planted in a wider spacing than traditional methods to decrease the potential for competition during future droughts. These strategies were designed to increase the chances for long-term success of the forested landscape on the Stossel Creek property. Success will be determined through at least a decade of monitoring of tree health and survival within established monitoring plots.
The climate-adapted reforestation of the Stossel Creek property is a novel project designed to explore new replanting strategies that intentionally account for climate change. Through an innovative public-private partnership, this project demonstrates the use of new tools and approaches to restoring and conserving natural resources available today, with the ultimate goal of establishing a resilient forest into the foreseeable future and ameliorating expected climate impacts to aquatic habitat. Demonstrating and recognizing the role of these practices in creating more-resilient forests can help land managers plan and implement more comprehensive approaches to forest restoration and, in this case, fish habitat protection as the climate changes.
Links to film coverage:
Over the last year, Long Live the Kings has been forging new partnerships and making new connections up and down the Lake Washington Ship Canal. We’re part of a loose coalition of diverse interests: commercial fishing companies, boat maintenance yards, the Port of Seattle, American Waterway Operators and the Lake Washington-Cedar-Sammamish Watershed Salmon Recovery Council, among others, working to ensure that the Ballard Locks get the attention and funding they deserve to remain open and facilitate safe fish migration.
What is the issue at the Locks?
For anadromous fish like salmon, the Ballard Locks represent the biggest barrier in the watershed. All salmon have to navigate the Locks to go to the ocean and return to spawn, running the gauntlet of 100-year-old machinery and a patchwork of workarounds. The fish ladder functions as it should for returning adults, but as they travel through the large and small Locks, they risk injury by getting pulled into saltwater drains. The small salmon smolts (outmigrating juveniles) face even more danger. They “go with the flow” and end up exiting the Locks one of two ways: the lucky smolts exit via slides or flumes installed by the Army Corps of Engineers for safer passage, while the unlucky ones get sucked into the filling tunnels and scraped along rough, barnacle-covered walls – more on that and photos below!
Managers have known about these issues since a plan to recover Chinook was written in 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Salmon Recovery Council to make temporary fixes and minor improvements, but funding for permanent fixes and improvements for passage was the primary barrier (no pun intended). The erroneous notion in Washington DC had been that the Ballard Locks were largely a recreational and tourist amenity, and so we were unable to access maintenance dollars when competing with the big, commerce-moving infrastructure of the Mississippi or even the Columbia River facilities. Thanks to our new Ship Canal partners, that notion was put to rest when they commissioned a study to demonstrate the huge value of the Locks, which provide a freshwater port on Puget Sound for the Alaskan Fishing fleet and an entire maritime industry. They estimated over $1.2 billion in annual economic losses to the maritime industry alone if the Locks were to fail. We credit this study as catalyzing our coalition of partners who welcomed the “salmon interests” into their fold and together we worked with the Washington congressional delegation and every level of US Army Corps of Engineers to make the problem and solution well understood.
What is the solution?
The solution is a suite of projects for the 101-year-old structure, making a series of necessary upgrades and replacements to ensure the continued operation of the Locks while also improving survival of juvenile and adult migrating salmon. This series of projects will take several years to complete and we will need to keep up the pressure to fund them and see it through. The project that benefits fish most happens to be the first project on the list, so it won’t be long before we see a benefit to sockeye, Chinook, and coho salmon. The project entails replacing the valves and machinery of the ‘filling culvert’ mentioned earlier: a huge tunnel that moves lake water into the large lock to fill it during a lockage (when a vessel is raised or lowered to the the appropriate water level). The upgrades allow the culvert gates to open and close at different speeds to slow the velocity of water entering the locks during the smolt outmigration. This improvement, along with the smolt slides and flumes that you see as you walk across the dam at the Locks, should markedly increase the number of smolts that experience safe passage from the Ship Canal to Puget Sound.
Very importantly, the overall safety and functionality of the Locks is being improved. Last year’s funding was approved to replace a crane for the emergency closure system. Now the large Lock filling mechanism marks the project with the highest price tag on the list. Future projects involve seismic retrofits and a new screen on the saltwater drain so fish don’t get entrained (stuck) there.
There is more to do but let’s take a minute to celebrate this victory for fish and infrastructure in Puget Sound!
What can you do?
- Help us thank our Congressional leaders, especially Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
- Want to tour the large Locks and filling tunnel? Every year the Army Corps of Engineers empties each Lock at different times and conducts a series of safety checks and tests. They also scrape barnacles from inside the filling tunnel. The public can sign up to join a tour. Sign up here.
- Support LLTK to help advocate for salmon and steelhead in Olympia and Washington DC. Most of our grant funds can’t be used for this sort of effort, so we rely on individual donors to be able to leverage partnerships, meet with elected officials, and be a voice for salmon.
Cover image courtesy of: By Unknown Photographer / US Army Corps of Engineers – , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=480030
All other images courtesy of Eric Hall, ehall Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ehall/
To raise awareness about high mortality rates for steelhead and salmon in Puget Sound waters, “Survive the Sound” invites students to track juvenile steelhead as they travel to the ocean from their freshwater homes.
Just a few paces from the front entrance to Cascadia Elementary School, dozens of baby salmon dart around in a large, bubbling tank. But for a class of 28 second-graders down the hall, a cartoon juvenile steelhead named “Fishy McFishface” is stealing the show.
For the past week, teacher Gary Bass Jr. has used Fishy — an alias for a real fish that’s been fitted with a surgically implanted tracking device — to teach his students about the obstacle-ridden journey from the river to the ocean that most Puget Sound steelhead die trying to complete.
“Should we check in on our fish?” Bass asked just after the morning bell on a recent school day. The students gave a cheer and scurried to the front of the classroom as Bass pulled up a website on a projection screen.
To the left of a map of Puget Sounds waters, a panel showed a leaderboard with 47 other fish, the migration mascots for the nearly 2,000 classrooms, most of them in Washington, that are participating in “Survive the Sound” this year.
Created by salmon-conservation nonprofit Long Live the Kings, Survive the Sound became a supplement to salmon and steelhead curricula somewhat accidentally. Described as a sort of fantasy football for fish, the initiative started during last year’s steelhead migration.
Image caption: Cascadia Elementary School teacher Gary Bass Jr. answers questions at the end of a lesson about salmon and steelhead migration to the Puget Sound. Bass also works writing and math into his “Survive the Sound” lesson plan.
Predators, disease, pollution, oh my! It’s tough in Puget Sound for steelhead. Fortunately, you can help and have some fun in the process by joining Survive the Sound.
Survive the Sound is an opportunity for everyone to follow the perilous migration of 48 funny looking steelhead smolts. These fish will face all sorts of obstacles along the way, and few will survive. It’s up to you to pick the fish that will make it to the finish line alive. Sponsor more than one fish, invite friends, or build a big team to have a chance at winning the grand prizes!
Beginning May 7th, you will watch your fish in their 12-day migratory race to survive Puget Sound. Each day you’ll be updated on our fish’s progress and learn a little more about the science behind wild salmon and steelhead recovery.
Proceeds help Long Live the Kings restore wild salmon and steelhead, and support free classroom participation.
We need your help! Steelhead have been suffering huge losses on their trek through Puget Sound and are at risk of extinction.
Please call or email your state legislator by February 10, and ask them to support the ‘Recover Puget Sound Steelhead’ request in the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2018 supplemental budget (request details attached). It’s that easy!
Who’s your state legislator? Find out here and make a call for fish!
The legislative session is short, so act by February 10 to make sure your voice is heard!
Not sure what to say? Use this language in your correspondence:
Please support the ‘Recover Puget Sound
Steelhead’ request for$793,000 in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2018 supplemental budget. It is the last of the funding needed to address severe threats to steelhead in our Puget Sound marine environment Problems like contaminants, disease, and predation have already been identified, and researchers are close to providing solutions.
The request is part of the international, collaborative Salish Sea Marine Survival project to determine why young Chinook, coho and steelhead are dying in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia. Previous appropriations by Washington State totaling $1.6 million have been leveraged by $17 million raised, and equal in-kind support, from the 60 public, private and nonprofit groups affiliated with the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project.
Survive the Sound Returns Spring 2018.
With over 1,100 steelhead sponsorships from friends, family, and coworkers, Survive the Sound made a big splash in its 2017 pilot year. Only 6 of the original 48 steelhead survived, but participants walked away with two clear messages: Puget Sound steelhead are struggling to survive, and it’s up to us to save them. Thank you to all who participated and made this innovative, new campaign a reality!
In case you missed the excitement last spring and are still puzzled by conversations comparing the prospects of Fishy McFishface and Lulu, Survive the Sound is an interactive game that uses real data from migrating wild steelhead to create competition between friends, family and colleagues. Something along the lines of fantasy football for fish. Basically, tracking data from wild steelhead is collected and shared with players through the Survive the Sound website. Players sponsored a fish and followed the perilous journey to the ocean.
Before the migration began in early May, participants connected with each other on the app, gifted fish to thankful friends, and sponsored multiple fish to increase their odds of survival. During the two-week migration, everyone was gripped to their smartphones, eagerly waiting for the latest updates on their fish’s miraculous progress or unfortunate demise. Consequently, non-participants were subjected to a boatload of fishy puns during the migration – our fincerest apologies.
This spring, everyone gets another opportunity to follow these funny-looking fish. Fish selection will open in early March 2018 at SurvivetheSound.org. Still not sure if you’re in? Here are a few new reasons to participate in Survive the Sound this year:
- Support FREE access to Survive the Sound for teachers – Beginning in March, educators will be able to join Survive the Sound using a free gift card. (enroll for the gift card now using this form). LLTK is also partnering with NOAA to create a salmon and steelhead educational toolkit with STEM learning opportunities which complements the Survive the Sound experience.
- Form a CUSTOM team – Salmon and steelhead supporters will be able to create and name a team in order to gather support for recovery efforts. To join a team, users can contribute as little as $5, but for every $25 a team raises, they’ll be able to pick a new fish, increasing the team’s chance of an overall win.
- Play this FUN game with your coworkers – LLTK will help get you and your coworkers involved with salmon and steelhead recovery with an employee engagement toolkit and bulk fish sponsorship packages. Build camaraderie with friendly competition and a healthy dose of science, all for a good cause. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Supporting threatened steelhead populations is no game – except when it is. Help us grow Survive the Sound by spreading the word.
- Ask your employer to become a corporate campaign sponsor – Survive the Sound now has corporate sponsorship opportunities that will recognize your company’s valuable contribution to an effort that will reach thousands of people. Contact email@example.com for more information.Survive the Sound participates struggling to decide which fish to pick.
- Connect with local educators – Don’t let classrooms miss out on an opportunity to participate in Survive the Sound for free! Tell them to enroll here, or share an informational sheet that you’ll find here.
By Glenn Lamb Special to The Daily Astorian
Published on June 8, 2017 12:01AM
“The Pacific Northwest is salmon country.
On the Lower Columbia River and Pacific Coast, salmon and steelhead are key to our way of life, anchoring coastal economies, ecosystems and culture. Today, as for generations, commercial and sport fishermen feed their families and support communities through salmon harvest.
Salmon restoration efforts support the fishing industry, but also benefit other species, make our water cleaner and reduce the risk of costly floods. In short, when we protect salmon, we bolster our communities and our environment.
The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency works with states and tribes to invest in salmon and steelhead recovery work in Alaska, Washington state, Oregon, California and Idaho, contributing $1.2 billion since 2000 and leveraging $1.4 billion in matching funds. The $215 million invested in Oregon alone leverages $330 million of state Lottery funds, bringing the total to protect and enhance salmon to $545 million.
This is truly an investment, and one that provides returns.
Recreational fishing alone generates about $500 million annually in Oregon, creating 16,500 jobs, and commercial salmon fishing creates over $16 million annually and more than 900 jobs.
In addition to fishing, investing in the “restoration economy” also makes good business sense. According to the University of Oregon, every $1 million spent on habitat restoration creates 15 to 24 local jobs, and more than 90 cents of every dollar stays in Oregon communities.
The salmon recovery grant program supports locally driven actions, not regulatory directives. With the help of watershed councils, soil and water conservation districts and land trusts, landowners and local communities plant trees, replace impassable culverts and restore streambanks. Cuts to this program would be a devastating setback for a citizen-led effort to restore healthy salmon runs in Oregon.
Without continued investment like the recovery fund, salmon recovery in the Northwest will stall, hurting the economies and communities supported by salmon fishing in the long term. We hope you’ll join us in asking Congress to continue to support the recovery of our salmon.
Glenn Lamb is the executive director of Columbia Land Trust based in Vancouver, Washington, with offices in Hood River and Astoria. A nonprofit organization, Columbia Land Trust conserves and cares for the vital lands, waters and wildlife of the Columbia River region through sound science and strong relationships.”
Read the full article here.