Resident Fish Study During Summer 2021 Heat Wave

Two scientists place a fish net along the shore of the Willamette River.

Field work in the Willamette River during summer 2021.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners conducted a comprehensive fish sampling effort in June and July 2021 to establish the relationship between contaminant concentrations and the growth of fish at the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

About halfway through the four-week effort to collect juvenile resident fish from the site, the collective decision was made: the team had to stand down. With air temperatures in Portland set to top triple digits for consecutive days on June 26 and 27 (at 108 F and 112 F degrees respectively), conditions were no longer safe for the field team to continue working. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act fish collection permit issued by NOAA Fisheries did not allow for beach seining when water temperatures exceeded the tolerance threshold for threatened juvenile Chinook salmon, which had been present in the system in recent days. Air temperatures ultimately peaked at 116 degrees on June 28, the result of an unprecedented high pressure heat dome over the Pacific Northwest. At this point, it wasn't even clear if it would be possible for work to resume.

Fortunately, temperatures normalized and work could continue. On July 1, the team was back on the water, now starting their days at 5:00 a.m. to avoid the afternoon heat and optimize chances for catching fish. When work wound down on July 9, the remarkable success of the effort had become apparent: the team caught over 300 peamouth chubs and juvenile starry flounder across 39 sampling sites. This robust set of fish will enable NOAA to evaluate the relationship between contaminant concentrations and growth, and to examine the relationships between those parameters and relative sediment contamination levels. 

The level of effort, teamwork, and shear tenacity required to implement this plan were significant and entailed contributions from numerous individuals and organizations on behalf of the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council, including NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (Assessment and Restoration Division, Business Operations Division, and Headquarters Staff); the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center; the NOAA Restoration Center; the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources; Industrial Economics, Inc.; Cramer Fish Sciences; and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.