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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

June 26, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Once abundant bull kelp beds look to make a comeback in Puget Sound

PSRF Brian Allen Taylor Shellfish guy.JPG

There used to be a time when bull kelp beds and schools of herring thrived in Port Gamble Bay and outer Hood Canal area.

Today they have all but disappeared, and now the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal elders are coming together with the Washington Department of Nature Resources staff to locate where these old bull kelp locations were and replant them.

Herring prefer to lay their eggs in thick green beds of kelp, and no one is really sure why they’ve gone at the way side.

The groups have started their replanting efforts with a 30-foot by 30-foot section just north of Point Julia. At a shallow 15 feet, divers anchored 40 natural-fiber ropes to the bay floor, seeded with hatchery-raised juvenile kelp.

“Kelp is not only important to the tribe culturally but also for the species that depend on it for habitat, such as herring and salmon,” Paul McCollum, the tribe’s natural resources director said in a news release.

Bull kelp is among the world’s fastest growing seaweeds. It is found in rocky near shore areas, providing areas of refuge for fish and birds. It also acts as erosion control on beaches against tidal currents.

Historically the tribes used the bulb of the bull kelp to hold fish oil for trading. Fishing line was made from the plant’s long stem, called a stipe.

While kelp beds have increased along the Washington coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca, they have disappeared from much of central and southern Puget Sound.

Reasons for the decline are uncertain, but likely include shoreline development, climate change and declining water quality.

“Without an established bed, the plant may become vulnerable to predation by invertebrates such as crabs,” Betsy Peabody, executive director of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a partner in the project said. “Part of our restoration strategy is to kick-start reproduction in order to boost the population.”

The project was funded by The Russell Family Foundation. Additional partners in this project included the Suquamish Tribe, Washington Pilots Association, Taylor Shellfish and Olympic Property Group.

The floating kelp beds are small ecosystems, providing a home for juvenile fish and a place for birds to hunt. Bull kelp helps control beach erosion caused by strong tides and currents.

(Puget Sound Restoration Fund ecologist Brian Allen and hatchery and research technician Nate Wight lift a rope that has been seeded with juvenile kelp. Photo courtesy of the PSRF.)

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