With its eelgrass beds and rocky beaches, Puget Sound’s shoreline is frequented by hundreds of species of fish and other creatures. State and federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on its restoration.
But Amy Carey, Executive Director of a new group called Sound Action, says the marine ecosystems that support sensitive species are still declining.
“And until we stop those habitat losses, I don’t think we have much hope for the recovery of Puget Sound," Carey says, "because we’re losing the habitat even faster than we can possibly even try to attempt to restore it.”
Sound Action thinks they can help by shining a light on enforcement of an existing law: the state’s Hydraulic Code, which is administered by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and intended to protect fish and their habitat.
Sound Action did what it called an audit of nearly 300 hydraulic permits recently issued, for nearshore development of things like docks or bulkheads. The law says construction should be limited to times when it doesn’t impact fish that are migrating or spawning. Carey says about 70% of the permits had restrictions to protect salmon. But several other species of concern got little to no protection.
‘About 80% didn’t have any timing restrictions for surf smelt. 90% didn’t have any sand lance restrictions. And there was not one permit that had a condition, a timing restriction put on for ling cod or for rock sole. Not one permit,” Carey says.
Fish and Wildlife says the audit was based on faulty assumptions – and that the agency cannot restrict development unless they have documented evidence of these fish, which is expensive. They also wish Sound Action would have consulted with them before making their findings public.
But the Department says it is currently updating the Hydraulic Code and will work with the new watchdog group as well as other stakeholders in the future.