Washington Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Region

Ongoing Studies

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, in partnership with Tribes, agencies and others, conducts and supports research and monitoring studies to (1) improve our understanding of the distribution and status of trust species populations; (2) identify factors limiting trust species recovery; (3) assess impacts to trust species and their habitats from environmental contaminants; (4) evaluate trust species recovery and habitat restoration actions; and (5) support fish and wildlife conservation planning. We are currently supporting and working on numerous projects in western, central and eastern Washington state. The following descriptions highlight several of our current projects:

  Chromium Toxicity in a Native Mussel
  Olympic Mudminnow - Western Washington Wetlands Survivor
  Lake Sammamish Kokanee Salmon Supplementation Program
  Elwha River Weir – Monitoring Fish Response to Dam Removal
  Regional Prairie Native Seed Project , Puget Sound, Washington
  Leadbetter Point Western Snowy Plover Recovery Project
  Genetic Assignment of Bull Trout for Relocation Above Swift Dam
  Pygmy Rabbit Reintroduction, Washington
  Leadbetter Coastal Restoration, Washington
  North Cascades Rare Carnivore Survey

Chromium Toxicity in a Native Mussel

Western pearlshell mussels (Photo: Marie Fernandez, USFWS)To help determine if releases of contaminants from the Department of Energy Hanford site may have negatively impacted native mussels, the Hanford Natural Resource Trustees are conducting a study to determine the sensitivity of the western pearlshell to hexavalent chromium, a contaminant that has been and continues to be released from the Hanford site to the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River.

Click here for study poster





Olympic Mudminnow - Western Washington Wetlands Survivor

Olympic mudminnow (Photo: USFWS)The objective of this study is to identify the population structure of Olympic mudminnow. Understanding how closely related Olympic mudminnow are in different wetlands located in north Puget Sound, south Puget Sound, the Chehalis River watershed, and coastal Washington will inform how to design a strategy for conserving this endemic fish species.

The Olympic mudminnow is a small fish that only occurs in western Washington. Olympic mudminnow live in marshes and wetlands with a muddy bottom and abundant aquatic vegetation. Typically they do not occur where there are large, predatory fishes, such as largemouth bass. They eat fish larvae, eggs, and small invertebrates, and have a remarkable tolerance of low oxygen levels. The Olympic mudminnow may be an indicator species to monitor the potential impact of climate change on wetlands and fish in western Washington.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted Olympic mudminnow surveys in past years and created a database of where the fish occur. Our office is currently working with WDFW to revisit several of these sites to collect a few fish and perform a genetic analysis to help us determine the relative uniqueness of each Olympic mudminnow population. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Abernathy Technology Center will be performing the genetics tests this fall.

On October 17, 2012, we participated in an Olympic mudminnow workshop. The purpose of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Washington-British Columbia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, was to share science on Olympic mudminnow and establish a partnership coalition capable of developing and implementing a conservation strategy for Olympic mudminnow and their habitat.

Species benefitted: Olympic mudminnow

Partners: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Abernathy Technology Center

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Salmon Supplementation Program

The objective of this study is to develop and monitor hatchery supplementation strategies aimed at recovering native kokanee salmon in Lake Sammamish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, King County, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to restore the Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon population. This population once numbered in the thousands, but recent adult returns have been less than 100 fish per year and it has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Lake Sammamish kokanee currently spawn in three small tributaries: Laughing Jacobs Creek, Ebright Creek, and Lewis Creek.

Ebright Creek (Photo: USFWS)One major component of the recovery effort is a supplementation program aimed at improving Lake Sammamish kokanee survival rates from the egg stage to the fry stage. Adult kokanee are collected from their natal tributaries and spawned at the Issaquah State Fish Hatchery. In 2010, half of the eggs were incubated at Issaquah and half will be taken to Quilcene National Fish Hatchery where they were reared to the “eyed-egg” stage. After all eggs reached the eyed-egg stage, they were placed in three experimental rearing systems at Issaquah. Each experimental rearing system used water taken from a natal stream (Laughing Jacobs, Ebright Creek, or Lewis Creek) to provide adequate imprinting. Shortly after the kokanee fry emerged from their eggs, WDFW and King County planted them back into their natal creek. In 2010, a total of 14,000 Lake Sammamish kokanee fry were released. Within 24 hours of release, the fry migrated downstream into Lake Sammamish where they will grow for 2 to 4 years before returning to the three natal creeks to spawn.

The supplementation program is scheduled to occur for no longer than three kokanee brood cycles (total of 12 years). During this time, FWS is partnering with the Lake Sammamish Kokanee Work Group to (1) provide fish passage beyond barriers currently blocking kokanee from reaching additional suitable spawning habitat; and (2) improve spawning habitat quality in currently accessible areas of the three streams. Increasing available spawning habitat, improving existing spawning habitat, and increasing survival of eggs while they are in the natal streams are the issues the work group will address in order to give Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon the best chance for recovery.

Male kokanee salmon (Photo: USFWS)
Photo: USFWS
Female kokanee salmon (Photo: USFWS)
Photo: USFWS


Update: Kokanee are returning to Lake Sammamish streams this year in amazing numbers. Check it out here.

Species benefitted: Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon

Partners: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; King County, WA; Cities of Redmond, Bellevue, Sammamish, Issaquah; Quilcene National Fish Hatchery

Elwha River Weir – Monitoring Fish Response to Dam Removal

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)An adult fish trap, termed a resistance board weir, was installed in the Elwha River in September 2010 to begin counting adult salmon, trout, and char migrating upstream and downstream in the Elwha River. The weir is part of a multi-agency effort, which includes the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Olympic National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), to monitor the influence of removing two Elwha River hydroelectric dams on salmon and steelhead returns to the Elwha River ecosystem. The goal of the project is to count migrating adult salmon and steelhead to determine if run sizes increase in the Elwha River following dam removal. A portion of the adult salmon captured at the weir will also be used as broodstock for hatchery production and conservation. Hatcheries will be used for Chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, pink salmon, and steelhead as a safeguard to protect Elwha River salmon runs during dam removal, which is expected to result in short-term sediment concentrations that may kill adult salmon. In addition, information will be obtained from the weir to determine when different species of adult salmon enter the river, their age, and genetic makeup.

At 195 feet across, the Elwha weir is thought to be the largest floating weir on the West Coast. The weir consists of 52 floating panels connected to a substrate rail. The substrate rail is comprised of 10-foot sections of 3-inch angle iron which are bolted together and secured to the streambed using rebar stakes. The floating panels block fish migration and direct the fish to one of four trap boxes; these boxes can be placed in different positions as needed. There are currently three upstream trap boxes---two on one side of the river and one on the opposite bank. There is also one downstream trap box. Now that the substrate rail is in place, the weir can be installed in approximately 2 days and removed in only a few hours.

The new Elwha weir fished for 30 days in 2010 and captured a total of 492 adult salmon and trout, representing eight different species, including Chinook, pink, chum, coho, and sockeye salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and bull trout. Chinook salmon were captured in the greatest number---461 individuals. Pink salmon were the next most common species captured with 12 individuals. Although the weir was pulled prior to the peak of the coho and chum salmon runs, both species were captured. In addition, summer-run and/or early returning winter-run steelhead were captured. The capture of pink salmon surprised us, since pinks generally return to Puget Sound rivers only during odd years (2009, 2007, etc.). They have, however, become more common during even years over the last decade.

The weir is planned to fish a majority of the time during the summer and early fall, when Chinook and pink salmon are migrating into the Elwha River. However, it is expected to fish only part-time during late fall through spring when storms and/or snow melt result in high water in the river. The weir fished successfully during flows of 2,200 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late summer (500 cfs is the normal low flow during summer). This was encouraging, since the weir was predicted to be able to fish up to about 2,000 cfs.

The weir was re-installed in August 2011 in advance of the pink salmon and Chinook salmon adults returning to spawn. This project was funded in part by funds provided to the cooperating agencies as part of their annual budget. Additional funds were obtained through the President’s stimulus program (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). The project is currently funded through September 30, 2012.

Species benefitted: Chinook salmon, coho salmon, pink salmon, chum salmon, sockeye salmon, bull trout, steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout

Partners: Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Olympic National Park; U.S. Geological Survey; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Environmental Protection Agency


Last updated: October 22, 2015
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