The Research Department at the Skagit River System Cooperative works both locally and regionally for salmon recovery through rigorously applied research. Our work adds to the region’s knowledge of salmon, supports the need for habitat restoration, and identifies effective restoration techniques. We collect and analyze data on fish habitat use with a focus on juvenile Chinook salmon, fish response to recovery efforts including habitat restoration, and linkages between habitat conditions, landscape processes, and land uses. We coordinate our research efforts with federal, state and local agencies, as well as volunteer groups.
The SRSC Research Department produces a variety of documents, which can be found HERE. Documents related to fish use of nearshore, pocket estuary, and river delta sites within the greater Skagit estuary and Whidbey Basin of Puget Sound can be accessed through an interactive map by clicking on the map link above.
The Research field crew collects fish distribution data to identify where salmon are and which habitats they are using. The crew regularly beach seines and fyke traps certain sites in Skagit Bay and the Skagit River delta, as well as one-time sampling of randomly-selected sites (See map of fish sampling sites below). We identify, count, and measure the fish caught in each set before returning them to the water unharmed. We also record such things as water temperature, depth, and salinity, current velocity, and substrate and vegetation. Our long-term monitoring has led to a database of records spanning fifteen years. Some fish are retained in order to study their otoliths (ear bones), which work much like tree rings in telling us their life stories. You can read more about the otolith study in Beamer & Larson’s 2004 ‘The Importance of Skagit Delta Habitat‘ and Beamer et al.’s 2000 ‘Skagit Chinook Life History Study‘.
One topic of our research has been the role of estuaries in recovering the wild Skagit Chinook salmon populations listed under the Endangered Species Act. Chinook populations have declined in part due to estuary habitat loss and degradation, much of it caused by dredging, diking, and shoreline-hardening. Estuaries provide important habitat to feed and protect young salmon from predators. SRSC looks for estuary restoration opportunities in the Skagit River delta and in smaller ‘pocket estuaries’ located in the Whidbey Basin (the water between the mainland and Whidbey Island, including Possession Sound, Port Susan, Saratoga Passage, and Skagit Bay) and northern Skagit County (Padilla, Samish, and Fidalgo Bays). Pocket estuaries are heavily used by very young Chinook salmon on their way to the ocean. Our research has shown that Skagit delta and pocket estuary habitats are much smaller and more fragmented than historically, which reduces rearing opportunity for salmon (see pocket estuary map below). You can read more about the importance and function of estuaries for Chinook salmon in Beamer et al.’s 2005 ‘Delta and Nearshore Restoration‘, co-written with authors from NOAA and USGS.
A key part of designing restoration projects for salmon is understanding how salmon habitats are formed. Our Research Department has been mapping habitat-forming processes and habitat conditions in Whidbey Basin to answer that question. In 2007, we are collecting fish-use and habitat data in potential restoration sites in Whidbey Basin and northern Skagit County. These investigations are all in collaboration with various federal, tribal, state and local government agencies. Some projects work with volunteer organizations as well, such asWSU Extension Beach Watcher programs in Skagit and Island Counties, utilizing ‘citizen scientists’ in data collection.
Monitoring the success of restoration projects is also important. In 2006, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community restored a wetland and fish access to the wetland and creek at Lone Tree Point. In collaboration with the Swinomish Planning Department and the Skagit MRC, our research crew collected monitoring data before the project was implemented, and is now monitoring post-project to see how effective restoration was. This site will be a test site for better understanding Chinook response to reconnection and restoration of nearshore and pocket estuary habitat. You can read more about the Lone Tree project in Beamer et al.’s 2004 ‘Lone Tree Pocket Estuary Restoration‘.
The work undertaken by SRSC Research has applications throughout the region for salmon recovery. This work requires long-term monitoring and interagency collaboration. SRSC is a leader in data collection and ecological analysis because of the long-term commitment of our member tribes to scientifically supported salmon recovery.
Eric Beamer, Research Director
Greg Hood, PhD, Senior Research Scientist
Bruce Brown, Field Biologist
Jason Boome, Fisheries Technician
Josh Demma, Fisheries Technician
Leonard Rodriguez, Fisheries Technician