October 21, 2013 at 11:47 pm #658MikeKeymaster
Scientists mystified by Puget Sound-area herring decline
3/29/2005, 4:35 a.m. PT
The Associated Press
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A steep decline in Puget
Sound-area herring, a critical food source for larger
fish, marine mammals and sea birds, has scientists
Not only are adult herring dying earlier than normal,
but some fear a stock that used to be one of the
largest in Washington state’s inland marine waters
could go extinct.
The 30-year decline in the small, silvery fish has
far-reaching implications, said Jim West, a state Fish
and Wildlife Department research scientist who found
high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls and
other toxic substances in herring in south Puget
“Virtually any predator worth its salt in Puget Sound
is going to be eating herring,” West said.
Herring are a dietary stable for chinook salmon, cod
and halibut, and also are eaten by porpoises, seals,
sea lions and orcas. Freshly spawned herring eggs once
drew swarms of marine birds, especially diving ducks
called surf scoters that fly north to nest in the
“It’s thought to be important for them to feed on
herring spawn while they’re here because there’s not a
lot of food up there for them,” said Joseph Evenson, a
state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist. “They’re
basically working off their fat reserves.”
The herring decline may explain the disappearance of
thousands of scoters from parts of the inland waters,
said Evenson and his boss Dave Nysewander, the state’s
marine bird and mammal project leader.
One of the most severe herring declines is between
Bellingham and the Canadian border, an area which once
accounted for about a third of the state’s total
The Cherry Point stocks plummeted from 10,000 tons in
1994 to 808 tons in 2000, then rebounded to 1,611 tons
in 2003, but remain in danger of going extinct, said
Duane Fagergren, a fish biologist with the state’s
Puget Sound Action Team.
In January 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity
and other activists sought protection for Cherry Point
herring under the Endangered Species Act. A decision
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration is expected in mid-May.
Much of the mystery to scientists is in the high
percentage of herring that die before reaching the age
of peak fertility.
Herring in the inland waters typically used to live as
long as 5 to 8 years, but now “it’s rare to see one
over 4,” said Paul Hershberger, a U.S. Geological
Survey fish pathologist who has been studying disease
in herring since the mid-1990s.
In the 1970s, about 20 percent of the sound’s herring
population died of natural causes annually, but now
it’s 67 percent to 84 percent, Hershberger said.
Environmental activists blame pollution and other
habitat degradation, but state marine fish manager
Greg Bargmann says disease, lack of food and predators
also may be involved.
Hershberger cited the presence of a ichthyophonus, a
parasite that wasn’t noticed in the inland waters 30
years ago but is now common and infects the heart and
other organs, and a virus that causes viral
hemorrhagic septicemia, which infects mostly young herring.
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