Community Salmon Investigators Needed To Be Part Of “CSI: Highline”

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Dennis Clark, Miller/Walker Creek Basin Steward, asks:

How many adult salmon return to Miller and Walker Creeks in Burien, Normandy Park, and SeaTac each year?

The fact is we have only a general idea.*

In addition, we don’t know how many of these fish are stricken by pre-spawn mortality and thus how many are surviving long enough to lay the eggs of the next generation.

According to Clark, a better understanding of the numbers of fish returning to the streams and the extent of pre-spawn mortality is one of the top recommendations the community identified as part of coordinated monitoring of the streams (see the 2009 monitoring coordination recommendations here). Adult salmon in our streams are the Pacific Northwest equivalent of the “canary in the coal mine” – they reflect the health of our lands and water. Knowing adult salmon numbers and what’s happening to them once they enter the stream will serve as “vital signs” for our streams. By being part of our Community Salmon Investigation team, you can help us learn more about this community resource.

To accurately monitor adult fish returns and fish health, your help is needed! Volunteers are being sought to collect data on adult salmon that will return to Miller and Walker Creeks from mid-October to late December.

Please sign up by Tuesday, Sept. 28th, by contacting Dennis Clark at [email protected] or 206-296-1909.

Beginning in mid-October and continuing until late December, volunteers are needed to visit Miller and Walker Creeks daily at several locations to look for fish.

Clark adds:

“We need enough volunteers to staff every day of the week because only a sustained, daily (or close to daily) survey will provide us the accurate information we need to understand stream health.”

This is an exciting and unusual opportunity to see parts of your community that are normally inaccessible. You will get closer to one of the iconic animals of America – the Pacific salmon. You will be part of an important community effort to better understand how well we’re doing taking care of our lands and waters. And, of course, you’ll get to cut open dead salmon bodies like the CSI teams you watch on TV!

Volunteer Expectations
As a volunteer, here is what to expect:

  • You need to commit to volunteering at least one day per week for the 2.5 month period from mid-October to late December. (If you can’t volunteer consistently but would be willing to fill in for a regular team member, please let me know and we’ll see if we can include you that way.)
  • Two-person teams will be responsible for data collection on one day each week (e.g., every Tuesday). Ideally we will have enough volunteers to fill in on days when one or both team-members cannot go out.
  • At this point, we don’t know how long it will take to survey but volunteers should assume spending two hours on their day, at least initially as they’re learning the stream reaches and how to collect data.
  • You will work only during daylight hours, which will, of course, become more limited as the season progresses. People who work five weekdays will want to volunteer for Saturday or Sunday surveys. Those with flexible schedules will be encouraged to do weekdays.

    Members of the “CSI Highline” team will cut open fish like this one on Miller Creek last October to see if it had a chance to spawn before it died. Cool.

  • You need to be able to walk up stream channels/banks that are rocky and wet/covered in running water. You may need to climb over and under downed trees and push through or go under brush. Overall distance walked each daily survey will be about one mile (only a portion will be in the stream).
  • You will need to go out rain or shine but you will not monitor when the stream is running high to keep you safe (plus it’s hard to see fish in high, turbid water).
  • There are two sites to be inspected on Miller Creek and two sites on Walker Creek – all are in Normandy Park because all adult salmon migrate first through the city before spawning (or, sadly, dying before they can spawn). Short drives will be needed for you to reach all the survey sites.
  • You will work in pairs for safety and to maximize data quality.
  • You will need to follow the access requirements of the private and public landowners who are graciously providing us access to the streams.
  • You will count and record information on living fish
  • You will take measurements of each dead fish. This will involve handling and cutting open carcasses. Gloves will be provided. You will record information on adipose fin presence (indicating whether the fish came from a hatchery), sex, percent egg retention, spawning status, and if possible, coded wire tag scans (another sign a fish came from a hatchery).
  • You will need to provide your own rain gear and footwear. In most cases, we expect you will need to use hip waders but knee-high rubber boots may suffice depending on your height and stream conditions. My ProLine rubber hip waders – which have survived two years of rough service already – cost less than $40 so buying a pair is not a big investment.
  • You will be given sampling collection kits and recording documents.
  • You will be trained or paired up with a trained volunteer who will teach you what to do.

This community is fortunate to have some citizens who love the fish and work together to restore the streams. People so motivated will be offered more intensive training in early October. This self-selected “core group” will provide the “lead” team member. These leads will in turn train the other team member(s). Consequently, lack of previous experience should not be an obstacle to successful data collection.

If you want to be part of this “core group” that gets the full training, please contact Dennis at [email protected] or 206-296-1909.

* Thanks to reports from members of the Normandy Park Community Club at the Cove, we know that people have seen from between 65 to nearly 200 adult salmon migrating upstream between early October and late December (examples: 169 fish in 2005, 168 in 2007, 65 in 2008). Some of these sightings may be double counts and they were not methodically collected, however. Cove users should continue to report sightings to Staci in the office to continue this community recording initiative! Our “CSI” effort will add to this historical record.

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