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Western Fisheries Science News, October 2014 | Issue 2.10

November 12, 2014

Supporting Restoration with Research in the Nisqually River Delta

USGS and Nisqually Indian Tribe scientists work together to capture fish using a lampara net.  Photo taken by Mike Hayes (USGS). 

USGS Scientists from Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) recently attended the Fifth Annual South Sound Science Symposium  (sponsored by the Puget Sound Partnership) in Shelton, Washington.  Together with their collaborators from the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Nisqually River Foundation, they presented some of their recent findings.  Information presented described juvenile Chinook salmon estuary utilization through growth and residence time for pre and post-restoration efforts in the Nisqually Delta, and data on the stock composition of hatchery origin, juvenile Chinook salmon and habitat use by forage fish and juvenile Chinook salmon in the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve (NRAR).  These presentations highlighted some of the research WFRC is doing to provide quality science and help inform decision-making in Puget Sound. 

The Nisqually River Delta (including the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Nisqually Indian Tribe land, and a mix of state and private lands) is located in the southern portion of Puget Sound, WA. The delta, along with the reserve is an important area for fish, marine mammals, and benthic invertebrates, including Chinook salmon whose population is listed as threatened by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dike removal in fall 2009 restored tidal inundation to 750 acres of wetlands in the Nisqually Delta, making it at the time the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest.  To provide continuity with salmon migration pathways, the reserve was established in 2011. A coordinated, multidisciplinary monitoring effort of ecosystem response is being conducted by many government agencies, tribes, and NGOs in the delta and reserve.  USGS has been playing an important role in helping to understand the complex system and provide science that will help inform decision-making and adaptive management. Many partner USGS Centers have been contributing, including the Washington Water Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center, and Pacific Coastal Marine Science Center.  

USGS and Nisqually Indian Tribe scientists work together to capture fish using a lampara net.  Photo taken by Steve Rubin (USGS).

Studies by WFRC are improving our understanding of fish patterns in the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve and Nisqually Delta.  In a project by Kim Larsen and her team, scientists are using fish otoliths—calcium carbonate deposits located beneath the brain, used for hearing and maintaining balance—to provide information on daily growth patterns, and migratory history of individual fish as juveniles, including the returning adults as juveniles.  Using this tool has allowed us to understand where fish are spending their time in the delta, how much they are growing, how long they stay and how restoration efforts have changed these parameters since restoration took place.  Research by Steve Rubin and Mike Hayes, together with cooperators from the Nisqually Indian Tribe, Nisqually River Foundation, and Eric Grossman (USGS-PCMS) has been designed to evaluate delta and nearshore habitat use by juvenile salmon and forage fish in the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.  Field efforts have been a truly collaborative effort, with USGS and tribal scientists working side-by-side to capture fish using a lampara net.  Data gained from these efforts will be used to better understand where these fish originated, how much they are contributing to populations in other parts of the Puget Sound, and what habitats are being selected by Chinook salmon and forage fish such as surf smelt, and Pacific herring.  By understanding migration pathways and habitat use by fish, and evaluating post-restoration changes in habitats and physical processes on fish distributions, we will be able to explain changes over time in this complex and dynamic system.  This will be important for informing future restoration activities in the Puget Sound.

Newsletter Author - Rachel Reagan



USGS Advises Large EU Fish Health Project:  John Hansen, a WFRC research immunologist, recently served as an external advisor for an EU sponsored research consortium known as TargetFish. TargetFish is composed of over 25 different participating academic, industrial and federal laboratories from the EU. Along with co-advisor Professor Niels Jørgen Olesen from the Danish Veterinary Institute, the two scientists are aiding the large consortium on their effort to develop targeted vaccination strategies for diseases that impact the European aquaculture industry. The progress meeting took place in Barcelona, Spain, September 22-24. 

USGS Hosts Visitors from Mongolia:  On October 21, Scientists from WFRC- Columbia River Research Laboratory hosted visitors from the Wild Salmon Center (Portland, OR) and representatives from Mongolia.  The representatives were from the Taimen Conservation Fund, an Non-Government Organization working on protecting taimen and rivers in northern Mongolia. The Mongolian visitors were interested in gathering information on effects of dams on migratory fishes, and trying to learn about mitigation strategies, including particularly fish passage.  USGS scientists provided a general overview on their research on dams and fish passage in the region.


USGS Scientist Gives Keynote Address at International Meeting: WFRC Senior Scientist James Winton presented an invited keynote address to open the 9th International Symposium on Viruses of Lower Vertebrates in Malaga, Spain, October 1-4. The meeting drew scientists from around the world studying viruses of fish, reptiles and amphibians. The talk, “Anthropogenic drivers of emerging viruses in fish” focused on factors that are leading to the appearance of new virus diseases affecting fish in both aquaculture and in the wild. These factors include the rise of global aquaculture, increased trade in fish and fish products, climate change, introduction of non-native species, altered habitats, inputs ofcontaminants and changes to food chains.

USGS Research presented at 8th Biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference: On October 28-30, Scientists from WFRC presented research at the 8th Biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference at the Sacramento Convention Center, CA.  Presentations included the use of acoustic telemetry to assess effects of fish guidance structures on juvenile salmon; diel activity patterns of juvenile late-fall Chinook salmon around operation of the delta cross channel; a Bayesian approach to eliminating bias in survival estimates due to the effect of tag failure; and identifying and modeling when tagged fishes have been consumed by piscivorous predators. The conference is a forum for presenting technical analyses and results relevant to the Delta Science Program’s mission to provide the best possible, unbiased, science-based information to a broad community of scientists, engineers, resource managers, and stakeholders working in the Bay-Delta system.


WFRC scientist Jeff Duda was awarded an Excellence in Restoration Award from the NOAA Restoration Center, along with co-recipients George Pess (NOAA) and Roger Peters (USFWS) for their work on development and implementation of monitoring and adaptive management guidelines for the Elwha River restoration project.