Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation 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 Washington. The following descriptions highlight several of our current projects:

  Hatchery Evaluation
  Fishery Managment Assistance
  Habitat Restoration and Conservation Program
  Juvenile Chinook - Urban Lake Nearshore Studies
  Elwha River Recovery Project – Monitoring Fish Response to Dam Removal
  Olympic Mudminnow - Western Washington Wetlands Survivor
  Lake Sammamish Kokanee Recovery Program

Hatchery Evaluation

Hatchery Evaluation (Photo: USFWS)The Hatchery Monitoring and Evaluation Program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office performs several tasks, from ensuring hatchery production is marked/tagged to providing science-based evaluation and guidance of hatchery operations. Additionally, the Program seeks to carry out and evaluate hatchery reform principles and recommendations that were established by the USFWS Olympic Peninsula Hatchery Review Team. Across the three Puget Sound/Olympic Peninsula Complex hatcheries (Quilcene, Makah, and Quinault), approximately 4.2 million Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and steelhead are annually marked and/or tagged to identify hatchery origin and evaluate returns.

When fish return to the hatcheries, fish are enumerated and biosampled to evaluate population demographics by collecting data on species, sex, age, size, tags, and genetics. We then assess the contribution of hatchery release groups and demographics to determine if management objectives are being met. The effectiveness of different rearing and release strategies are also evaluated to improve hatchery operations. Fish passage at the hatcheries continues to be evaluated and escapement and passage goals are developed based on habitat carrying capacity, stock-recruitment models, and ecosystem impacts. Finally as a part of the hatchery reform principles and the greater USFWS mission, we assess potential impacts of hatchery operations on native fish stocks to avoid or minimize negative interactions and conserve native fish populations.

Species benefitted: Steelhead and Chinook, Coho, and Chum Salmon.

Partners: Quinault Indian Nation, Makah Tribe, Port Gamble S' Klallam Tribe, Jamestown S' Klallam Tribe, Skokomish Tribe, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and Suquamish Tribes.

Fishery Managment Assistance

Marking Trailer (Photo: USFWS)WWFWCO is involved in a number of fishery management forums, including the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC). The PSC is an organization that facilitates implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. It does this through research and regular meetings between national, provincial/state, First Nation, and U.S. tribal delegates to manage commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries in both countries. WWFWCO participates on a number of PSC technical committees tasked with evaluating hatchery marking and tagging programs and fishery impacts on salmon stocks of concern. Much of the work we do is focused on using coded-wire-tag data to assess stock status and fishery impacts. In support of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, our office also provides all release and recovery data for USFWS hatcheries in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to a publicly accessible database managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (RMIS). In a typical year, USFWS hatcheries in these four states recover over 20,000 tagged fish and release over 40 million fish.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and Steelhead.

Partners: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Quinault Indian Nation, Quileute Tribe, Skokomish Indian Tribe, Hoh Indian Tribe, Point No Point Treaty Council, Makah Tribe, Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and First Nations.

Habitat Restoration and Conservation Program

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)The Habitat Restoration and Conservation Program at the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office manages two aquatic restoration programs: the National Fish Passage Program and the Chehalis Fisheries Restoration Program. Both programs provide technical assistance to private landowners, non-profit organizations, Tribes, and local, state, and federal agencies. Our habitat restoration program is able to deliver services including: habitat evaluation, surveying, contracting, project implementation, and monitoring. Our programs aim to benefit the ecosystems we strive to conserve and the communities that interact and thrive around them.

The National Fish Passage Program works with partners to improve or remove barriers to fish movement and reconnect aquatic habitats. We also work on road decommissioning, barrier assessments, and prioritization of fish passage barrier removal projects.

The Chehalis Fisheries Restoration Program (CFRP) makes funding and technical assistance available for on-the-ground restoration of aquatic habitat, and population and habitat assessments in the Chehalis River watershed. The CFRP focuses on Pacific Salmon and trout as well as non-game species such as Pacific lamprey, freshwater mussels, and Olympic mudminnows to link habitat restoration efforts to the ‘bigger picture’ of holistic ecosystem function.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho salmon, Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Bull Trout, Steelhead, Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Olympic Mudminnow, and Pacific Lamprey.

Partners: Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the Chehalis Tribe, the Quinault Indian Nation, North Olympic Salmon Foundation, Trout Unlimited, US Forest Service, Olympic National Park, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, Wild Fish Conservancy, Coast Salmon Partnership, Grays Harbor Conservation District, Xerces Society.

Juvenile Chinook - Urban Lake Nearshore Studies

Olympic mudminnow (Photo: USFWS)Puget Sound Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Determining their habitat requirements and the important characteristics of these habitats that affect growth and survival are important components of recovery efforts. The nearshore areas of urban lakes such as Lake Washington are important rearing areas for juvenile Chinook salmon because they provide areas of abundant forage combined with reduced predation risk. From 2001 to the present, the WWFWCO office has been working with several partners to understand the habitat requirements of juvenile Chinook salmon in nearshore areas. Results have been used to assist various local, county, and state agencies with their shoreline management activities.

Recent efforts have focused on:

1. The effect of nighttime artificial lighting on their behavior.

2. Determining the extent to which juveniles utilize the small lake tributaries (creeks that are not utilized for adult spawning).

3. Monitoring the responce to recent habitat restoration projects.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon

Partners: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife;

Elwha River Recovery Project – Monitoring Fish Response to Dam Removal

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)Two dams were erected on the Elwha River (Elwha and Glines Canyon) in the early 1900's to fuel development in the Port Angeles area of Washington State. Between the combined lack of fish passage and the loss of sediment and woody debris downstream, these dams significantly impacted the Elwha River Ecosystem for over a century. The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act (1992) paved the way to the eventual removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office staff both leads, and assist with a number of important monitoring projects in the Elwha River Ecosystem. These projects provide recovery managers with information which enables them to make more informed management decisions throughout the recovery process (“adaptive management”). These projects include: radio telemetry tracking to assess the movements and distribution of recolonizing fish within the basin; population estimates of adult Chinook salmon and steelhead using SONAR technology; assessing the migratory and life history patterns of bull trout to determine if they are once again migrating to the marine environment; and monitoring fine sediment impacts on spawning habitat following dam removal. Our staff also continues to assists tribal, state, and federal partners by providing logistical and evaluative feedback for monitoring projects and proposed management decisions.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Bull Trout, Steelhead, Coastal Cutthroat Trout and Pacific Lamprey.

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

Olympic Mudminnow - Western Washington Wetlands Survivor

Olympic mudminnow (Photo: USFWS)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 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.


Species benefitted: Olympic Mudminnow

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

Lake Sammamish Kokanee Salmon Recovery Program

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)The objective of this project is to recover the native kokanee population in Lake Sammamish to fishable levels. This population once numbered in the thousands, but over the past 15 years adult returns have often been less than 100 fish per year. Lake Sammamish kokanee primarily spawn in four small, urban tributaries: Laughing Jacobs Creek, Ebright Creek, Lewis Creek, and Tibbetts Creek. The ongoing recovery project is a collaborative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (WWFWCO), King County, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, The Snoqualmie Tribe local municipalities, and other organizations. Over the past 12 years, the WWFWCO has provided funding and technical assistance to support ongoing recovery efforts. The long-term strategy is to improve habitat conditions such as restoring habitat access in some spawning tributaries, while the short-term strategy is to improve egg-to-fry survival through supplementation efforts. Because the run size has recently been extremely low, emergency measures (e.g., extended rearing, cryopreservation of milt, captive broodstock) have recently been implemented.

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

Last updated: November 6, 2019
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