A fine study, with surprising findings

The volunteers came from as far away as Port Orchard.

Some of the juvenile salmon they netted in the waters off Crystal Springs came, to everyone’s amazement, from much further away – Green River, White River, the Nisqually, Issaquah, Miller Bay. Scanned like a grocer item by an electronic wand, a metal marker embedded in the tiny hatchery fish could show each one’s point of origin – in some cases, from distant coastal facilities seemingly too remote and off-course for the surprisingly intrepid salmonids.

We first reported on the Bainbridge Beach Seining Project (the operative term refers to the technique of netting used to capture the subjects of study) just over a year ago in these pages. At that time, volunteers working with Bainbridge city officials, the Suquamish Tribe and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had made, over the course of about 36 months, 150 visits to the island’s nearshore environment, netting, cataloging and releasing some 41,000 marine organisms. Even then, with a formal analysis of the data still months away, ecologist and city planner Peter Namtvedt Best said the data suggested juvenile fish were behaving in unforeseen ways. Best described the findings as “a massive dispersal of fish,” with the fingerlings traveling far and wide and spending an unusual amount of time – up to a year, instead of two weeks – in Puget Sound rearing areas before venturing out to find their fortunes at sea.

(Our original stories on the city’s seining project and salmon study are still online. Go to the Review’s website and type “seining” into the “Search” box for the two-part features, which ran March 20-27, 2004.)

Turns out the findings have implications for both the understanding and management of the resource. As reported elsewhere in today’s edition, even state officials are being caught off-guard by the results. The most serious implication is that the period during which overwater construction is allowed – between June and March – may actually be in conflict with the activity of young fish. That would pose an issue for the good folks in Olympia to consider, and we can think of several area legislators who may be interested in taking up the cause. If the question is merely one of shifting the “work window” for such construction to another time of year – as opposed to closing the window tighter – we should think that could be done with little fuss. And the data collected here and at other points around Puget Sound suggest it should be considered.

For a study that was intended to establish a “baseline” understanding of juvenile fish activity and local nearshore environmental conditions, the Bainbridge Beach Seining Project and its coterie of volunteers appear to have netted something much bigger still.

An excellent project, and fascinating results.

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