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For 36 years, one of this region's most prominent nonprofits involved in the restoration of Puget Sound Salmon runs has been restoring habitat, doing research, supporting a hatchery program, and working to bring stakeholders together.
The goal is to restore sustainable salmon and steelhead fishing.
But the barriers to the salmon survival are many and persistent.
Our Earth Day discussion with Long Live the Kings is next on Northwest.
Regular viewers of Northwest now know we've done a lot of work over the years explaining the threats to this region, salmon population and some of the efforts to fix it.
One of the most important nonprofits in this effort is a group called Long Live the Kings, which has been working alongside the government, tribes, the scientific community and fishing interests since 1986.
It's safe to say that hundreds of organizations and thousands of people work full time on fixing this region.
As Northwest now contributor Steve Kitchens tells us, long Live the Kings has played a big part in facilitating those efforts with projects and programs both large and small.
On a cloudy winter morning, the South sound scientist from Long of the Kings and the squabbling Indian tribe bought a boat and hit the water.
The work never ends.
Now you kind of do a little bit of everything.
The team settles on a quiet spot, an oral bay near Anderson Island.
These scientific instruments include a rod and reel for this job.
These three spend the morning fishing, so they cast a line and they can spend a long time catching only a couple of fish.
And it can feel like, is it really worth it?
But if you're looking at a lot of the details on the fish that you're catching, then the answer is yes.
A few fish can still even tell you a lot.
I just said it feels heavy, though.
Finally, they get a bite.
Oh, that's why they're flatfish.
But flatfish is not the catch of the day.
Instead, they're on the hunt for juvenile herring, a vital food source for salmon and beyond.
That means for this guy, today's lucky day, he's getting tossed back, trying to figure out a timing tide cycle.
You know, we're using some decent sonar technology to try and track down the schools, but in the end, we're using hooks.
It's part of the Salish Sea Survival Project.
The scientists are investigating the level of toxins and substances called forever chemicals, finding their way into herring by assessing the levels within the fish or presence and absence.
It'll tell us a story of how contaminated some of the waters are that these fish are traveling through.
Chemicals have recently emerged as dangerous pollutants not only to humans, but also marine species.
Earlier this year, a study discovered forever chemicals and pharmaceuticals have been detected flowing through regional wastewater treatment facilities and then discharged into Puget Sound.
There is a great need for support for local wastewater treatment.
During a February King County Council Regional Water Quality Committee hearing, another study reveals juvenile Chinook exposed to toxins found in wastewater discharge could suffer lower reproductive fitness, damaged organs and impaired behavior and stress response.
We chose one life stage, juvenile stage, just because they spend a fair amount of time in the estuary where a lot of the contaminants are.
And it's a very important life stage, especially for subsequent years chasing fish.
We're in a pretty good spot.
This research is really trying to understand herring abundance within the estuary.
To address salmon recovery from an ecosystem food web based perspective.
How's it going ever?
Back on board with Long of the Kings and the squabbling tribe, the hunt for herring continues.
Oh, there's a little one.
Wigler And patience pays off.
One by one, these juvenile herring will inform scientists what toxins make their way into the food chain and help devise a plan to make sure salmon are healthy and abundant.
Where learning new things with even relatively simple research in the South sound.
Steve begins Northwest now.
Long live the Kings Executive director Jack White holds a Ph.D. in the marine sciences with undergrad degrees in both oceanography and zoology.
He has a long history of publishing in scientific journals and serving as an expert advisor on a wide array of panels and study groups involving the health of Puget Sound.
Jack, thanks so much for coming in Northwest.
Now, I've told you before we started, I'm going to tell you here publicly as well, you've been on my list for a long time, along with Long Live the Kings as an organization.
Talk a little bit about what long lived the Kings is exactly a little bit about your history and then I have a harder question for you after that.
So along with the Kings is a 36 year old environmental organization and we have a dual mission.
We're focused on wild salmon and steelhead recovery and sustainable fishing because we feel like just recovering salmon to museum pieces is not real recovery and that people need to interact with them to feel a connection.
So we've we started out with a number of anglers who were really interested in salmon and who thought maybe they could rear them in private hatcheries.
And they they actually were successful.
Surprisingly enough, that evolved into sort of two different focuses.
One was on restoring or recovering wild species in nature and using hatcheries as a tool to recover.
We called it a salmon emergency room.
And the other was to produce fish for harvest without interfering with wild populations and using a new technique.
But over time, that's evolved and our organization has gotten in to a lot bigger kinds of projects.
So right now, for example, we just completed a $40 million or 200 researcher, 60 different organization, international program, looking at why juvenile salmon and steelhead aren't surviving in the Salish Sea.
And we're also now launching major infrastructure projects, looking at how to help salmon survive at the Hood Canal Bridge, looking at how to help salmon survive through the Lake Washington ship Canal, and then most recently, looking at ways to improve salmon migration through the I-5 corridor in the new Scott and then in the Squally River Delta.
Here's the hard part of that question I promised you, and I think you touched on a few of them if I forced you and I know it's going to be forcing you because the problems are so interconnected and there are so many of them that all relate to salmon recovery.
What would you say if I forced you to do it?
And I want that disclaimer in there.
What are the top?
Maybe two or three things.
Long live the Kings is focused on right now.
Yeah, that's great.
I mean, we just we just did a strategic plan, so that's pretty easy to answer.
One is to increase diversity of salmon populations and steelhead to make sure that we have enough of life, what we call life history variability.
So the salmon come and go from rivers at different times.
They come and go from different rivers and that that is maintained.
So the salmon can adapt to changing conditions.
So with climate change, this is becoming increasingly important.
The second thing is to try to improve survival of salmon and steelhead in what we call the Salish Sea.
Puget Sound in the Strait of Georgia, in British Columbia.
That has dropped off significantly over the last 35 years.
And so identifying ways to do that and there are a number of ways to do that.
I'd say the third thing is to address barriers to migration.
Things where we pinch, points where we know that salmon are being affected, whether it's a dam or whether it's a barrier like the floating bridge in Hood Canal or a barrier like the Ballard Locks, the barriers are pretty easy to see.
They're sort of self-evident.
The ocean conditions piece, though, not only in the Salish Sea, but even further out into the the to the Bering Sea.
You know, we can do all the habitat restoration in the world and have great upstream habitat and and really nice stream side vegetation and spawning gravels and everything else that we want to have.
We all know what those things are.
But if the if the juvenile fish don't succeed in the ocean, it really doesn't do any good.
What are your what is the is there a kind of a current theory out there that you mentioned climate change and ocean temperatures?
What's what's your organization's kind of current thinking on that?
Two, two things I want to say about that.
One is that there's an organization called the North Pacific and Adams Fish Commission, and I am a member of the U.S. delegation.
I'm an advisor to that group.
And they work on issues related to salmon in the open ocean.
And they just completed a large ocean expedition in 2022 where they are looking at salmon.
What causes salmon to succeed or fail in the open ocean?
We've never had the kind of scientific tools that we have now.
And so they're look, they're trying to answer that question.
But, you know, when you have something like the warm blob which occurred in the North Pacific a few years ago, where for multiple years the ocean was significantly hotter than historical averages, that really, really impacted salmon populations.
So sort of flipping that on on its side, I'm not sure we have the capacity here in the northwest to change the ocean and how salmon interact with it, which means that the things we can control, the health of our rivers, fresh water and estuarine habitat and managing predator salmon relationships are things we can control.
And those are even more important when we're pushing uphill against something like climate change in the ocean.
My theory, for what it's worth, which is about what you pay for it close to zero.
But you really tend to notice that pinks and chums, the salmon with less complex life cycles seem to be thriving almost to some extent.
If I'm not mistaken, in these warmer conditions and a little bit of adverse conditions for the fish with more complex life cycles like Coho and Chinook.
Is there anything to that?
Is that just is that cockamamie or.
You know, No, I think that's that's a great observation.
Well, you know, it's a it's a solid observation about what is an unfortunate trend.
I think what that's saying is that freshwater survival is so important and freshwater habitat is so important to species like Coho that stay in the river for a year, steelhead that stay in the river for two years, and Chinook, which really need big, healthy main stem rivers, that those species are being impacted more by those in by impacts to their freshwater habitat.
Whereas chum and pink which race right out of the river after they hatch, aren't as badly affected by that.
And actually they enter Puget Sound as a smaller fish.
And so they're not as subject to issues related to the food web or predation.
Speaking of predation, one of the controversies out there is the pinniped population and trying to get them to back off in terms of their consumption of of salmon, both wild and farmed pinnipeds being, of course, you know, sea lion seals and those kinds of creatures.
What's the what's long lived the Kings view of that?
Is that a necessary step to take?
What are your thoughts on this?
So we just spent seven years trying to study marine survival in the Salish Sea.
And there are two main findings.
One is the food conditions seem to be changing, and that's affecting Coho and Chinook.
But predation has increased tremendously due to the increase in Harbor seal population on juvenile fish and and steelhead are really being hammered.
Coho and Chinook are less so.
But but it's still predation is pretty important, particularly up on the Strait of Georgia, where there's lots of seal habitat.
So what do you do about that?
I mean, the seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Their populations have increased by eight fold since that act went into place.
People love seals.
You know, they have eyelids and they're cute and and they're they have a very strong public following.
And and we used to actually remove there was a bounty on seals back in the mid 20th century.
I'm not sure the public has the appetite for that anymore.
So we are trying to come up with other ways to address this problem that are more publicly acceptable.
One of those is to identify where there are pinch points, places like the Hood Canal Bridge or the Ballard Locks and address the issue there.
Can we get the fish past the bridge faster?
Can we put things in in the water there that might be a deterrent to the seals without, you know, mortally harming them?
Can we identify issues related to how we release fish from hatcheries?
And is there a timing issue if we dump 6 million fish in the water all at once?
Is that a dinner bell?
You're ring of the dinner bell there.
Or should we go to a more gradual release so that the fish have more of a chance?
The last thing I'll say about this, and this is something that people are real interested in, because killer whales are transient killer whales which eat seals.
They're they're mammal predators.
They're not Salmon predators are increasing their presence in the Salish Sea.
I think there was something like 1200 sightings of these transient killer whales in Puget Sound in the Strait of Georgia last year.
That is a record.
And they are coming here to eat seals and sea lions and harbor porpoises.
And we are cheering for them to do that because they don't need a permit.
Yeah, let's give them Starbucks gift card.
So we'll see.
Tracking, tracking what's going on with the populations of seals and their potential predators may be another important factor.
Good news, bad news question here for you.
The good news is, if you draw a Venn diagram of all the organizations and groups involved in salmon recovery in Puget Sound, in the Salish Sea, at the middle of that Venn diagram is a circle that says we are all invested in and want to recover salmon populations.
There is a like minded goal there, which is great.
The bad news is there are 600 of those circles all forming that Venn diagram from federal agencies to state agencies, nonprofits, local groups, cities, counties.
You know it.
I'm telling you.
But I mean, it's a it's a vast network of people and partnerships involved in this.
Ultimately speaking, has that proven to be a good thing?
Is it a difficult thing, our silos coming down, are they staying up?
Give us a feel based on all your interactions with those organizations in your various roles.
Overseeing and helping with this recovery is the administrative and bureaucratic piece of this, the organizational piece of the standing in the way?
Or is it getting better?
Oh, I'll cautiously say that it's getting better.
I think that there particularly with respect to habitat restoration and recovery work, there are the salmon recovery system, and for lack of a better term in Washington state, is built around watershed groups.
So watershed by watershed like minded folks are getting together, whether it's city and county governments, Indian tribes, environmentalists, managers, resource managers are coming together and saying, what do we need in our watershed to recover salmon and then putting forward individual plans?
That is great.
Where where we tend to be challenged is the interaction between how we manage fisheries and how we do the habitat restoration.
Typically what's going on is that when there's a problem with salmon, we ratchet down on fisheries and so fisheries always lose.
For example, right now Chinook fisheries off of California and Oregon are going to be closed for 2023 because habitat conditions and water conditions in California are so poor.
What I think we need is to really assess how much work is needed, what that's going to cost, and and have a frank conversation with society about whether we're going to do that, because there are sort of two ways we can do it.
We can say, no, we're never going to withdraw any more water.
We're not going to build any more buildings or any more roads, or we're going to invest in restoration actions that make up for those impacts.
And unfortunately, in salmon recovery, we very rarely say no to things that damage salmon habitat and we say no to the people who care about salmon by closing fisheries and whether those are commercial fishers, tribal fishers or recreational fishers.
They're the ones who bear the brunt of the challenge.
So our organization is really into building coalitions.
Like I said, the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which we just completed, was an international project.
We had 60 different organizations.
We have a NASCAR slide that we put up for folks to show how many people are involved in this.
And that's really what it took because no individual org even though everybody knew this is a problem for over 30 years, no individual organization could put together the resources to address it because they have limited authorities.
And it took nonprofit organizations in Washington and Canada to bring the people together.
And I was out the couple of I've been out with the Marine Survival Project, actually out doing some great awesome stuff.
So it was this interesting data.
I'm going to talk about another Venn diagram, and you gestured data to when it came to those interested in fishing, but is at the center of this Venn diagram I'm I'm describing is the word pain.
And everybody has got to have a circle that it is going to touch on, on some pain.
Shutting down hatcheries to save wild fish is pain.
Adding water to the system for irrigators or taking it out is going to be pain.
Restricting harvest is pain for tribes and commercial and sport fishermen.
So there's going to be a lot of pain.
I don't think we can avoid it to recover salmon runs.
Talk a little bit about the distribution of that pain and is that something that is needs to be negotiated?
Do people need to come to their senses and understand there's going to be pain all the way around?
How do you address the pain issue?
Because I think it's a big piece of salmon recovery.
Yeah, that's a that's a good that's a really good question and could talk about that for months.
I'm sure you could.
The I mean, I think I just said that that the pain right now if you were to to query people the folks who are having the biggest impacts on salmon management and recovery are people who catch them because since, for example, just in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, since 1985, fisheries on Chinook have been cut back by 80%.
Yeah, So, so there's only that's a five time.
That's one fifth now of what it once was.
Show me where anything else we do on the landscape has been pulled back by five times.
Have we removed 80% of our dams?
Have we removed 80% of our roads?
So the pain.
The pain threshold right now is entirely squarely on the fishing interests.
I think we also we estimated, for example, in Puget Sound that salmon recovery over the first ten years would require $100 million investment a year to keep from losing ground.
In other words, if we want a stable heart to tread water, that so the investment that the state and the federal government has made is about 25% of that.
So I think it's remarkable the success that folks have had in salmon recovery and the results that we've gotten with that limited investment.
But I'm going to guess that not only is it $100 million, it may be much higher than that to really gain gain ground on salmon recovery.
So let's say you're playing a game of Chutes and Ladders and salmon recovery is that game.
And you know, some things you do push you ahead, some things happen to you from the natural environment or human activities that push you down.
Let's add climate change to that now.
And we've tipping the board.
So even keeping your pieces on the board is harder.
So those estimates of $100 million a year investment needed are probably going to triple or increase by five times as we start to layer climate change on.
And we have to deal with water shortages, high temperatures in rivers, high temperatures in the ocean.
And it's going to it's going to be complicated.
In my section here, Mark, controversies, we talked about Pinniped predation, the seals and and the sea lions also here, hatchery programs and farmed salmon in Puget Sound.
You know, the wild fish advocates don't want them.
How do you how does Long live the King View Hatchery programs?
And I know you could talk for an hour on that too, but hit that and also hit is there a place for farmed salmon in Puget Sound?
Yeah, I can.
The farmed salmon question is easy, so I'll take that first.
I don't think there is.
I think I think that in water, open and open net pen, salmon farming is a terrible idea for a number of reasons, and we should just stop it.
It's a it's, it's basically taking the pollution from the salmon farming and and spreading that across the society and and the net gain is not there from my perspective on land salmon farming, it's great.
The big problem with that is do you take the food out of the ocean that it could be feeding other marine life to feed those fish?
So that's that's the main issue.
But if we can get the net pens out of the water, that's a great idea.
Hatcheries is much more complicated.
Yeah, our organization spent ten years working on how you can run hatcheries and have wild fish recovery at the same time.
And are there things we can do to improve hatchery management that will decrease the impact on wild fish?
Much of those activities have been implemented, some of them haven't, and maybe some of the most important ones have not been implemented.
At the same time, you know, we go back to fisheries.
Fisheries have been cut back very dramatically.
So there's a lot of pressure to ramp up those hatcheries and for Chinook production.
There is increasing pressure to ramp up hatchery production as a food source for Southern resident killer whales, which really rely on West Coast Chinook salmon.
Our thoughts are that that in places that are heavily impacted by human activities and are unlikely to be rolled back, hatcheries may be the only way to make food for Southern Resident Killer whales to meet federal treaty rights for tribal fishing, and to meet any other fishing interests that that exist in river basins that are in great shape, like, let's say the Elwha, which was just restored and has much of the watershed and national park hatcheries ultimately should not be necessary there.
Maybe there aren't any major production hatcheries on the Skagit River, So certain rivers I think we can rely on and restore natural production and other places.
I think we're going to be relying on hatcheries and then the trick becomes how do we maintain those without harming the wild stocks?
How do we maintain those in the face of ESEA, Endangered Species Act, Federal endangered species, and then tribes who want to harvest?
And one last thing I want to say about that is that the hatcheries are not immune to problems with climate change as well.
The marine survival Project indicated that the hatchery stocks were surviving in the marine environment, much less well than wild stocks.
Briefly, I see this on Twitter all the time.
It's the answer to every question when it comes to salmon harvesting.
Well, if we could just get the Native Americans to stop netting the rivers, everything would be fine.
Is is that a fantasy?
What's what's the answer to that?
Which is a reactionary response from a lot of the anonymous public on social media?
So so the so I'm I'm I'm not sure that the that the tribe tribal net fisheries in rivers is is a the most problematic fishing mechanism out there for salmon.
And secondly I'm not sure that that is that is why ultimately the numbers of salmon are so low.
What I hear from I'm a fisherman and what I hear from folks who fish on every side of the every side of the the industry or the practice is that there are people who don't obey the rules.
And that does that's human nature that isn't one group or the other.
And so what if we have regulations that are laid out and people obey those?
I think that is a legitimate approach.
And so so I think that the management is is strong for tribal fisheries.
I think they have an interest in not abusing their their treaty rights to fish.
But I think that they are a very obvious scapegoat for all of the other problems because we see them in the rivers and their nets are in the rivers.
Our last 45 seconds here, I wanted to make sure you had a chance to talk about this.
Are you ultimately optimistic or pessimistic that we will have more than museum quality runs?
The salmon in the Salish Sea someday?
Is this doable?
Yeah, I wouldn't be.
I wouldn't be here today talking to you if I didn't think it was doable.
I absolutely do.
And I think I think that it's it's it's a matter of talking to folks and us understanding what the issues are and continuing to sort of push the envelope of our understanding.
But also, you know, everybody has a role in salmon recovery.
You can you can drive your car less, you can recycle, you can change how you treat your lawn.
Everybody, everybody in the Northwest can have a positive role here.
And I recommend that we all put our shoulder to it.
Last 5 seconds.
Where can they learn more?
Give me cheap website plug.
Our website is l l t k dot 0rg.
All right, Jack, thanks so much for coming in.
Thank you so much for having me.
I really appreciate it.
Salmon and steelhead are now at the point they have to be saved.
Not enhanced, not preserved, not promoted, but saved from a synergistic combination of problems that are all heading in the wrong direction, from population growth to water quality to climate change, to poor ocean conditions to declining habitat, both in the fresh and salt water.
The bottom line, it is a mind bending issue, and the more you know about it, the more daunting all the interlocking problems can seem.
Organizations like Long Live the Kings are not intimidated, though, and are working with thousands of others to solve the Salmon's problems one step at a time.
And I hope before it's too late.
I hope this program got you thinking and talking to watch this program again or to share it with others.
Northwest now can be found on the web at KBTC dot org.
And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter at Northwest.
Now a Streamable podcast of this program is available under the Northwest now tab at KBTC dot org and on Apple podcasts by searching Northwest.
Now that's going to do it for this edition of Northwest now until next time.
I'm Tom Layson.
Thanks for watching.