Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal elders remember gathering herring roe in the mid-1900s when bull kelp beds were abundant in Port Gamble Bay and the outer Hood Canal area.

Herring prefer to lay their eggs in thick green beds of kelp. Today little kelp and few herring remain in Port Gamble Bay and no one is really sure why.

In an effort to restore the kelp, tribal elders are working with the natural resources staff to find the old bull kelp bed locations and replant them, starting this spring with a 30-foot by 30-foot section just north of Point Julia. At a shallow 15 feet, divers anchored 40 natural-fiber ropes to the bay floor, seeded with hatchery-raised juvenile kelp.

Puget Sound Restoration Fund ecologist Brian Allen and hatchery and research technician Nate Wight lift a rope that has been seeded with juvenile kelp. (Puget Sound Restoration Fund)

“Kelp is not only important to the tribe culturally but also for the species that depend on it for habitat, such as herring and salmon,” said Paul McCollum, the tribe’s natural resources director. Bull kelp is among the world’s fastest growing seaweeds. It is found in rocky nearshore areas, providing areas of refuge for fish and birds. It also acts as erosion control on beaches against tidal currents.

Historically the tribes used the bulb of the bull kelp to hold fish oil for trading. Fishing line was made from the plant’s long stem, called a stipe.

While kelp beds have increased along the Washington coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca, they have disappeared from much of central and southern Puget Sound. Reasons for the decline are uncertain, but likely include shoreline development, climate change and declining water quality.

“Without an established bed, the plant may become vulnerable to predation by invertebrates such as crabs,” said Betsy Peabody, executive director of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a partner in the project. “Part of our restoration strategy is to kickstart reproduction in order to boost the population.”

The project was funded by The Russell Family Foundation. Additional partners in this project included the Suquamish Tribe, Washington Pilots Association, Taylor Shellfish and Olympic Property Group.