Monday, February 9, 2015

Loving the Puget Sound to Death

Loving the Puget Sound to Death

(Illustration by Tim Robinson)
This article was reported with support from the National Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Hidden amid the pleasure boats and cargo ships that roar through the canal in northwest Seattle is one of the oldest fishing economies in North America. From midsummer to October, from early morning until after dusk, fishermen from the Suquamish Tribe zoom up and down the canal in orange waterproof overalls, tending to salmon nets that dangle across the water like strings of pearls. The tribe holds reservation land about ten miles west of the city, on the far side of Puget Sound, the 100-mile-long estuary that extends from Olympia, Washington, north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Suquamish are one of more than a dozen tribes that have fishing and shellfish-harvesting rights all across this region, and their fishing traditions, which are thousands of years old, predate all of the oldest shipyard industries here.

The men unload salmon at “A Dock,” a section of a boatyard reserved for tribal fishing boats....

... Ringed by the white-capped Cascade and Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound looks pristine. But four decades after the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, regulators haven’t kept up with the pressures of growing populations near America’s shorelines, here or elsewhere in the country. The sound is choking with the waterborne residue of the urban existence of 4 million people—engine oil, traces of gasoline and paint, lawn fertilizer, chemical flame retardants from furniture, lead and copper from old roofs, and other kinds of grime wash into the water every time it rains—a problem collectively known as storm-water pollution. Near the canal, the city has been scrambling to reduce spills from a century-old sewer and storm-water system that frequently overruns during storms—fifty-eight spills in 2013 and cumulatively almost 15 million gallons of raw sewage.....

.... All of this contamination becomes part of the stew that fills Puget Sound, the water in which fish swim and shellfish grow. And the people who rely on fish are among the first to feel the impacts. Sometimes the pollution is enough to kill salmon before they can spawn and make shellfish harvests either inedible or unmarketable, putting the fishing economy at risk. Tribal commercial fishing brings tens of millions of dollars of revenue into this state, but more than one fisherman told me it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from the declining stocks of salmon in Puget Sound. Pollution is one of the many likely reasons that some fish have low survival rates in the sound, along with the destruction of important habitats, such as wetlands. “Salmon recovery is failing because habitat is being damaged and destroyed faster than it can be restored and protected,” says Tony Meyer, a manager for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a tribal natural resources agency that works on fish conservation....     more here

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