Seeking signs of island salmon

This October, community volunteers will once again trek island streams to uncover and document tell-tale signs of native salmon.

The Bainbridge Island Watershed Council is seeking volunteers to help conduct its fourth salmon monitoring program. Citizens involved in the project record habitat conditions, salmon redds and even adult salmon in order to set a base line to judge the health of local streams and, hopefully, their eventual recovery. The job may seem like a simple walk in the woods, but there is overgrowth, steep stream banks and sometimes very little reward, admits program organizer Deb Rudnick.

“People sometimes think, ‘Oh I’ll sign up and I will for sure see salmon,’” Rudnick said. “If (the salmon) do show up, we don’t know if you will see them come. They’ll come in at night and get eaten by predators.”

But there has been noted success in the program, at least in spotting fish. The observation of 16 adult salmon (chum and coho) and an estimated 120 juveniles last year was the largest observation to date.

“Over three years, we have observed salmon in five out of seven monitored streams, and redds in three of the streams,” Rudnick said. “The highest amount of redds we saw were in 2005... this past year there was a greater number of streams that we observed salmon in. Those eggs could be coming back, but it is hard to say.

“Compared to what we know about historic salmon runs on Bainbridge, it is likely that several streams supported hundreds of salmon, so compared to historical observations it is quite a bit lower.”

Rudnick said that smaller streams like the ones on Bainbridge have been hit disproportionately by fishing efforts, pollution and loss of habitat. Bainbridge streams face several challenges, but one of the largest is getting enough juvenile salmon to develop a sustainable run.

The watershed council, which oversees the project in conjunction with the city, is working with the Suquamish Tribe and the Kitsap Recovery Team to try and plant salmon in streams this year. Permits for remote site incubators, hatching sites for transplanted eggs, are expected to be approved, which means the watershed council will need more volunteers to oversee the hatching and feeding of salmon fry. The egg boxes will most likely be placed along Cooper Creek due to the city owning much of the surrounding watershed land and the recent restoration of the stream and culvert.

“This is the first time we have really consistently tried to get returning adult salmon,” Rudnick said. “The return rate is very low, we are still talking percents of percents... it’s not surprising when you think of the gamut they have to run, with the oceans and fisheries.”

Still, it could be the first step to having a healthy, returning salmon run; remote site incubators were an important part to the revitalization of Dogfish Creek in Poulsbo, where residents can now view a healthy salmon return.

But until Bainbridge salmon make their way back home, the watershed council is relying on volunteers to observe what they hope will be a gradual increase in local populations

“The most valuable data we have is that there are streams with salmon in them on Bainbridge – we have documented that,” Rudnick said. “But we still need many more years of monitoring to say anything definite about the salmon population.”

Teams of two visit their assigned stream once a week from mid-October until late December or early January.

A mandatory training session will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27, starting at Bainbridge Island City Hall.

For more information call 780-3797.

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