Tracking endangered steelhead producing answers and more questions about long-term survival

Q13 Fox –

With giant buckets of cold Nisqually River water and some smaller bins to hold fish, Megan Moore is assembling a field surgical ward outside of the small town of Yelm.

“I love the problem solving part of this,” says Moore, “like the mystery part of it.”

But Moore is no surgeon. She’s a research biologist with NOAA’s Fisheries Office in Seattle. This setup is a spring ritual along the fast-moving and pristine river for more than a decade now. And her patients: endangered steelhead.

Steelhead and salmon are not only big business in Washington state, many species are also in big trouble. But each year scientists are starting to uncover clues to turning that trend around. Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to our state economy hang in the balance.

“It’s a mystery of what’s going on with steelhead in Puget Sound,” she says. “And why they are dying.”

On this sunny day, only two smolts will go through the anesthetized water, get a small incision, and radio tag inserted under the skin. But about 200 total will make it onto this operating table this season to be tracked for several weeks to see how many make it down the Nisqually River, into the far southern end of Puget Sound, and — for the luckiest ones — into the Pacific Ocean.

Read more