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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

December 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Coho from local hatchery are part of a test to see how they handle urban pollutants

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Coho salmon from Grovers Creek in the Kitsap Peninsula were part of a test late last month to see how the fish handled exposure to storm water runoff pollutants.

The Suquamish Tribe is working with David Baldwin, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research zoologist, and Steve Damm, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biological scientist, to figure out if toxins in storm water runoff are killing adult coho salmon.

Vehicle exhaust, brake pads, oil and gasoline are among the main contributors to polluted storm water.

As part of the experiment the researchers mix copper, zinc, lead and other pollutants into a large tank of water at the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery, and then slipped four adult coho salmon into the dirty brown liquid.

The poisonous soup they created is aimed to simulate the kind of storm water runoff to which salmon are frequently exposed, especially in urban streams.

Scientists have observed adult coho dying within 24 hours of returning to urban streams. In most cases, death occurs before the fish can spawn. Known as pre-spawn mortality, it is commonly seen in streams near large urban areas such as Seattle.

“In urban streams, we are finding 60 to 90 percent of coho salmon dying before they spawn,” Baldwin said. “We want to figure out first what contaminants, if any at all, are causing the mortalities, then figure out how much of it actually kills them.”

At the hatchery, the coho were exposed to the chemicals for 24 hours, and then monitored for changes in their behavior. Liver, gill and bile samples are then taken for analysis. The contaminated water is filtered then disposed of at Kitsap County’s wastewater treatment plant in Kingston.

For comparison, another group of coho is placed in a tank of clean fresh water for 24 hours. Like those in the polluted tank, the coho are watched closely and the same tissue samples taken.

Biologists chose Kitsap County as the site for the project because it is an area where development is rapidly turning healthy rural streams into polluted urban creeks because of increasing population and development.

(Photo courtesy of Tiffany Royal, information officer Hood Canal/Strait of Juan de Fuca for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Caption is NOAA research biologist David Baldwin mixes lead, copper, nickel and other chemicals in a bin of water to simulate stormwater runoff.)

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