FORKS (Sept. 16, 2005) – Sometimes the best way to count fish is to become one. Hoh tribal biologists and technicians are donning fins, wet suits and snork masks to get the best idea of where fish like to congregate during the low flows of summer.
“Coho especially seem attracted to my mask,” said Ernie Penn, Hoh tribal member and fisheries technician. “If I’m really still, they swim right up to my face.”
By counting fish and noting where they are found in the three different tributaries to the Hoh River, the tribe is getting a good idea of the quality and capacity of habitat for young coho and steelhead.
“We’re not only counting fish, but pools created by downed trees and the fast, shallow sections of water called riffles,” said Joe Gilbertson, fisheries biologist for the Hoh Tribe. “We’re correlating the numbers of fish to the types of habitat where they are found to assess and monitor the productivity of the different habitats.”
Technicians are also recording water temperature, dissolved oxygen and the percentage and type of forest canopy. Gravel size in each section of stream is also being determined along with amount and location of woody debris.
In the future, the types of invertebrates – predominantly insects- found in different stream sections will be identified. Invertebrates are an important source of food to young salmon. “We know from other studies that we’re likely to find different invertebrates in pools where leaves and other debris accumulate than we will find in the fast-moving sections of the streams,” said Gilberstson. Invertebrate diversity is commonly used to assess stream health.
“Long term, these measurements allow you to determine the success of spawning fish in various tributaries,” said Gilbertson. “You can predict the number of fish you would expect to result from a given habitat based on the numbers of spawning fish you counted.” The surveys will allow the tribe to develop a baseline to compare the productivity of various habitats, identify degraded habitat and make good decisions about opportunities for habitat improvement.
“There is no hatchery production of coho on the Hoh River,” said Gilbertson. “Tribal fishermen are completely dependent on the productivity of the watershed’s habitat for their catch. Additionally, the coho stock is a significant part of the British Columbia ocean catch.”
As co-manager of the Hoh River fisheries resource, the tribe hopes to use information gathered during this study to protect habitat quality, evaluate changes to riparian zones, and direct future fisheries enhancement projects.
The three streams of the study are Owl, Anderson and Winfield creeks. Results of the study are being used by the Hoh Tribe and the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC), the implementing arm of a treaty between the United States and Canada to facilitate fisheries planning between the two nations. The stream and fish surveys are a part of a $56,000 PSC grant.
For more information, contact: Joe Gilbertson, fisheries biologist, Hoh Tribe, (360) 374-6090; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commisson, (360) 374-5501, [email protected]