‘Seafood sleuths’ study mystery of Pacific Northwest salmon declines
Conservationists and restaurateurs seek solutions to restore a sustainable population in the Salish Sea.
Wherever you live in the Pacific Northwest, you likely have salmon for neighbors. And while the human population boom shows no sign of slowing (about 3.5 million in the Seattle metro area covering the vast swath from Everett to Tacoma), it’s an entirely different story for the salmon.
For reasons no one fully understands yet, juvenile chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead (the Washington state fish) are surviving at far less than historic levels in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, the combined international waters known as the Salish Sea.
One of the organizations taking a leading stewardship role in salmon conservation is Long Live the Kings, which has worked since 1986 to restore wild salmon and steelhead populations and support sustainable recreational, commercial and tribal fishing in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.
The depletion of our salmon population is a complex, far-reaching problem that threatens an entire region, says Jacques White, executive director of Long Live the Kings. Seafood producers and restaurateurs such as Duke Moscrip, CEO of the six Duke’s Chowder Houses in the Puget Sound region, have responded to that threat by joining in the effort.
Moscrip is a self-described “seafood sleuth” who insists on getting his salmon from the wild and not from farms. He gives part of the proceeds from his new book, “As Wild as it Gets,” to Long Live the Kings.
“It bothers me to know that we are losing a critical food source,” Moscrip says. “I can no longer sit idly by without doing something.”
The problem they’re all trying to solve is that fewer and fewer juvenile salmon are surviving to make it out of the Salish Sea and into the Pacific Ocean to feed and grow, which leads to dwindling returns, reduced effectiveness of freshwater restoration efforts and ultimately reduced fishing opportunities. Even when we account for all forms of fishing, marine survival is down sharply from the 1970s and 1980s, according to White.
“Many of us in salmon management think that until we address this mystery of poor marine survival in the Salish Sea, we will not be able to achieve truly sustainable local fisheries nor wild fish recovery or plentiful food for our southern resident killer whales,” White, of Long Live the Kings, says.
Meet your neighbors
- Coho salmon, also known as “silvers,” average 28 inches and 7 to 11 pounds. In their ocean phase they have silver sides and dark blue backs. In their freshwater phase they develop bright red sides, bluish-green heads and backs, and dark bellies. Puget Sound survival rate: About 13 percent in 1979, and 2.5 percent in 2009.
- Chinook salmon, or king salmon, are the largest of the Pacific salmon, ranging from 24 to 36 inches and 10 to 50 pounds, although chinooks topping 100 pounds have been caught. In their ocean phase they are silver with dark spots. In freshwater, they develop vibrant blue-green, red or purple coloring. Mature adults have a pronounced red appearance. Puget Sound survival rate: More than 3.5 percent in 1974, and about 1 percent in 2006.
- Steelhead, a coastal rainbow trout, returns to its original waters to spawn. They range from a foot or more in length and weigh 5 to 25 pounds. An ocean steelhead is silver, while a spawning steelhead shows off a rainbow hue. Puget Sound survival rate: 7 percent in 1982, less than 1 percent in 2010.
Duke’s Chowder House has received the highest seafood restaurant rating in the state of Washington by Fish2Fork, a leading evaluator of worldwide seafood restaurants. Duke’s was also recently awarded a 100 percent sustainable seafood volume compliance rating from Smart Catch.