A new way of getting juvenile salmon out to the ocean is the latest innovation at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. The Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the facility, says the fish have safer passage with the new design. It’s one of the things they’ll be highlighting this weekend at a Fisheries Day going on Saturday.
If you’re a salmon trying to survive in the Lake Washington system, your life might be compared to a game of chutes and ladders…the obstacles are everywhere in the system. But the biggest one by far is the Ballard Locks.
“Because it’s a bottleneck, with not the most obvious way through,” said Eric Warner, a fisheries biologist with the Muckelshoot Indian Tribe.
“So the fish are confused and that’s the favorite kind of prey of a harbor seal or a sea lion, is confused fish.”
You can see the marine predators milling around the locks, feasting sometimes on several adult fish an hour.
Warner’s been studying the effects of the locks on the fisheries for decades now. And he says only pretty recently did the Army Corps install a fish ladder to make passage for the threatened runs easier. But it’s still quite treacherous moving through cement tunnels to get home and spawn.
Just this year, the Corps added a new slide to help juveniles out to sea. Warner says it’s good the Corps is trying new ways to improve the fish passage. But he says there are lots of things you can’t see that need fixing as well.
“This is one of the most important spots in the whole watershed, obviously, because fish have to come through here – once as juveniles and once as adults,” Warner said, “And if either one of those has problems, then we all have problems.”
The Muckelshoots call themselves the Salmon People. And the fish are like canaries in a coal mine. Their health is an indicator of health for the whole ecosystem, including humans. That’s why the state and federal government have spent so much time working on water quality standards in recent years.
The Muckelshoot Tribe will be one of the presenters this Saturday along, with many other groups.
The event will bring together about 20 organizations including federal, tribal, state and local government entities eager to educate the public about how to be good stewards of all the fish in the watershed.
Helping to get the message out is Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, a Salmon Recovery Manager for King County’s Watershed Resource Inventory Assessment Area 8, which coordinates habitat restoration work in the area that includes all the fish that run through the Ballard Locks.
“And for the people of Seattle, we increasingly have people moving here and we want to make sure that those folks who don’t know that there are salmon in your backyard in a lot of these local streams are here and they’re threatened and we need to do a lot to work to recover them, because they are such a cultural and community icon and if we don’t do our work to recover them, we’re going to losre them.”
Many of the fish people can see at the Ballard Locks run all the way up into tributaries that extend into suburbs all around the shores of Lake Washington – places such as Lake Forest Park, Redmond and Renton.
Among the things people can learn about at “Fisheries Day” are everything from where to take your vehicles for a salmon-safe car wash… to what kinds of weed control are best for fish.