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One of our most significant challenges in environmental science and management is convincing humanity that its worth changing our behaviors to improve our relationship with nature, even if its inconvenient. As a child, it’s those moments, like handling a young fish, or seeing a wide array of sea life get pulled ashore in one net set, that make all the difference.

USGS scientist showing students a nudibranch
USGS scientist, Jake Gregg, shows students a nudibranch captured during the Kilisut Harbor sampling effort.

We at USGS Western Fisheries Research Center don’t get many opportunities to directly engage the public in our work. Much of our field work is remote and often requires safety training, our laboratory work is highly controlled, and the rest of our work, while exciting to us, involves staring at a computer.

Fortunately, we have creative staff. Several years back, one of our Marrowstone Marine Field Station Biologists, Jake Gregg, identified an opportunity to help monitor habitat use by fish before and after a major restoration effort occurred. In August 2020 a 75-year-old earthen causeway was removed between Indian and Marrowstone Islands. This project restored an historic tide channel that connected southern Kilisut Harbor with Puget Sound.  The goal of this project was to improved the water quality of Kilisut Harbor as well as re-establish access for juvenile salmon migrating from the south.

In collaboration with Leslie Shively, a local middle school teacher, Jake formulated a plan to engage local students to monitor changes in the fish assemblage at the restoration site.  Jake reached out to the US Navy, who owns Indian Island, to gain access the relatively unaltered beaches near the restoration site.  This USGS, Blue Heron Middle School, and US Navy partnership has created a simple inter-annual monitoring program with 8th grade students as the primary data collectors. 

Photo of bay pipefish
Bay pipefish held by USGS scientist. One of the fish captured during Kilisut Harbor fish sampling effort.  Fish were carefully sorted, identified, counted, and measured then returned their habitat.

Now in its 7th year, I was lucky enough to join Jake, other WFRC staff and supporting volunteers, and a horde of kids this May for their annual Kilisut Harbor fish sampling effort.  About 10 kids lined up on either side to haul in a large beach seine. The captured fish were then safely moved to a large live well. 

For the next half hour, the kids worked with our scientists and volunteers to carefully sort, identify, count, and measure the size of the fish captured. This can be tedious work, but although it was cold and wet, all I saw were excited and engaged faces.

One of our most significant challenges in environmental science and management is convincing humanity that its worth changing our behaviors to improve our relationship with nature, even if its inconvenient. As a child, it’s those moments, like handling a young fish, or seeing a wide array of sea life get pulled ashore in one net set, that make all the difference.

Volunteer helping students count and measure fish collected in Kilisut Harbor, WA
Volunteer, Kathryn Sobocinski, working with students to sort, count, and measure fish captured during the Kilisut Harbor sampling effort.

So, thank you Jake, for creating a great opportunity for us to contribute to change not only through what our science tells us, but through the thrill we experience when we interact closely with nature.

In this issue of Something Fishy, we discuss  WFRC’s contributions to climate change science, a new “riverscape” ecosystem science strategy and how the Elwha River is responding over ten years after large dams were removed, our work with the Upper Columbia United Tribes to assess the potential for reintroducing salmon above Columbia River’s Grand Coulee Dam, and our new publication describing a novel approach to estimating the level of disease-related mortality in fish stock abundance assessments.

Finally, June is Pride Month. Following Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland’s, lead, this month we “…celebrate contributions of the LGBTQI+ community and reaffirm our commitment to equality.” 

We hope you enjoy the read!

Michael