Nonprofit to use new funding to try to find reason steelhead die near Hood Canal Bridge

SHINE — A Seattle nonprofit that works to restore wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest has received a $750,000 appropriation to help determine why steelhead are dying near the Hood Canal Bridge.

Long Live the Kings received the funding in the state’s 2017-18 biennial budget in support of the current $2.5 million phase of the Hood Canal Bridge Ecosystem Impact Assessment, the nonprofit announced.

“Long Live the Kings has been working with our partners from around Hood Canal to address a significant survival bottleneck for our state fish,” Executive Director Jacques White said in a press release.

About 65 percent of out-migrating steelhead that reach the floating bridge do not make it to Admiralty Inlet, and the high mortality might be limiting the recovery of the threatened species, White said.

The nonprofit, which has 30 years experience in salmon recovery, is working with the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and other partners to determine why the steelhead are dying and to discover if the bridge is affecting water quality.

“We need to know why these fish are disappearing in the vicinity of the bridge and we need to work together to address the changes that may be necessary,” said state Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who championed the bipartisan appropriation along with state Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union.

“The lessons learned from this project may be applicable to bridge infrastructure in other parts of the state and nation, contributing to a healthier marine environment. The legislative delegation from the peninsula region was united in our support of this work.”

Also backing the appropriation were state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and state Reps. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, all of whom represent the North Olympic Peninsula and the 24th District.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe helped initiate the Hood Canal steelhead project in 2012.

“Long Live the Kings and the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe have worked together to try and figure out if there is something that can be done to help mitigate the effect of Hood Canal Bridge,” Hans Daubenberger, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe habitat biologist said in a project video.

“And the first stage in that is understanding how the bridge actually affects fish moving past it.”

Work on the first phase of the Hood Canal Bridge Ecosystem Impact Assessment began late last year and will continue into 2019.

Scientists will assess the impact of predators, light and noise from the bridge and water circulation. Juvenile steelhead will be tracked using special devices.

With a floating span of 6,521 feet — it’s 7,869 feet from end to end — the 56-year-old Hood Canal Bridge is the world’s longest floating bridge over salt water.

Pontoons that span 83 percent of the width of the canal extend 15 feet underwater and might limit the exchange of fresh and salt water needed to preserve water quality and prevent harmful conditions for aquatic species, officials said.

Steelhead use the top of the water column when heading out to sea, and predators such as seals are known to hunt against the Hood Canal Bridge pontoons, Long Live the Kings officials said.

Other partners in the project include the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, state Department of Transportation and the U.S. Navy.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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