Steelhead are dying at the Hood Canal Bridge. Salmon may also be affected. How can we fix this?
Long Live the Kings, in partnership with the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, tribes, and state and federal agencies are working to address high steelhead mortality at this floating bridge. Phase 1 data collection is completed and the report summary and full report is available below. Phase 2 planning is underway and designs for devices to reduce steelhead mortality are in progress. If $2.5 million is secured this winter, these devices will be in the water as soon as spring of 2022. We hope to secure additional funding to improve the devices in future years and install additional devices. Long-term solutions will likely include replacing or significantly retrofitting the bridge.
Vital elements of Hood Canal’s natural ecosystem are at risk. Wild salmon in Hood Canal — including Chinook, chum, and steelhead — are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The Hood Canal Bridge spans the northern outlet of Hood Canal, connecting the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas. As a floating bridge, its pontoons span 83% of the width of Hood Canal and extend 15 feet into the upper water layer.
Tracking data from Phase 1 results indicate that up to 50% of juvenile steelhead that make it to the bridge do not survive past it. Bridge pontoons create an obstruction, increasing fish densities and making juvenile steelhead more vulnerable to predators near the bridge. Light, shade, and noise from the bridge may lend an advantage to predators but do not appear to directly contribute to fish mortality. Furthermore, certain portions of the bridge appear to aggregate plankton, incentivizing Chinook, chum and forage fish to linger at the bridge, which could increase their susceptibility to predation.
Furthermore, water quality modeling shows that the bridge impacts temperature, salinity, and currents down to ~20 m below the water surface and up to 2-5 km away from the bridge. This dual threat to fish and their ecosystem may be limiting the effectiveness of millions of dollars already spent recovering steelhead, salmon, and their habitat in Hood Canal.
Long Live the Kings and our partners are executing an independently reviewed assessment plan that takes a stepwise approach to efficiently pinpoint the causes of the problems and implement solutions. Over two years of research (2017 and 2018), the team has tagged and tracked nearly 500 juvenile steelhead and collected data on light, noise, fish density, predators, currents, temperatures, and hundreds of other observations.The synthesis of this data has given us valuable insight into how the bridge is exacerbating fish mortality.
Based on our research, engineers and fish passage experts are working with the team to develop short-term mitigation strategies that will expedite fish passage and deter predators from foraging near the bridge. At the same time, we are working to explore long-term options that may include fundamental changes to the bridge’s design.
2020 Project Update from LLTK Senior Project Manager – Iris Kemp!
steelhead stocks affected
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