Tribes restore fish access to estuary near Swinomish Reservation

Similk Bay Road before excavation. Photo: Nora Kammer, SRSC

Fish access and tidal flow were restored in March to a high-priority pocket estuary near the Swinomish reservation.

The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) removed a portion of Similk Bay Road and a non-functioning tide gate that isolated about 8 acres of estuary in Turners Bay. SRSC is the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes.

The road removal restored natural processes to a nearly 60-acre pocket estuary at the head of Similk Bay, which is part of Skagit Bay. This type of small, sub-estuary is essential habitat for out-migrating chinook fry.

“Pocket estuaries give juvenile salmon a protected place to acclimate to salt water,” said Steve Hinton, SRSC restoration director. “Restoring this habitat will lower the risk of mortality by reducing the amount of time salmon fry are exposed to hazards in the nearshore.”

Turners Bay is about 7 miles from the Skagit River delta. The site was identified using historic survey maps and ocean current data to find pocket estuaries about a day’s migration from the delta for juvenile chinook. About 80 percent of the Whidbey basin’s historic pocket estuaries have been lost because of development; including nearly 90 percent of those close to the Skagit delta.

The project involved closing and removing part of a county roadway, rerouting utilities, restoring sediment sources and tidal hydrology, removing debris and dredge spoils, permanently removing undersized culverts, controlling invasive spartina and restoring native vegetation. Also part of the project was raising and rebuilding a county road to protect residences from storm tides.

For more information, contact: Steve Hinton, Skagit River System Cooperative, 360-466-7243 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].