OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has cut short a research project on Caspian terns in Commencement Bay due to concerns raised by tribal fisheries co-managers about the birds' consumption of area salmon.
WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said those concerns were supported by preliminary findings of the project itself, which showed that salmon made up 78 percent of the diet of the terns attracted to a research barge since April 13.
"We can understand the tribes' concerns, given that they have a major hatchery facility on the nearby Puyallup River," Koenings said. "We also share their concerns for wild salmon stocks in the area, which have been listed under the Endangered Species Act."
Nevertheless, Koenings underscored WDFW's commitment to continue cooperative research on terns with federal and state agencies, and to develop a regional plan to protect the species and minimize its impact on endangered salmon stocks.
"We will be sitting down with our partners within the next few weeks to discuss strategies and determine our next step," Koenings said.
The project came to a close Thursday (May 31), when a team of WDFW biologists scared off hundreds of the birds that had been attracted to the barge that had been anchored off Brown's Point as a floating roost.
Approximately 1,000 eggs were recovered, which WDFW plans to distribute to research institutions and museums. Biologists had expected to find no more than 300 eggs.
Rocky Beach, WDFW wildlife diversity manager, expressed disappointment that the project ended three months ahead of schedule, but noted that it has already yielded critical information about tern management.
"The most important finding was that we can attract nesting terns to a temporary site – in this case, a floating barge," Beach said. "That opens up a range of new options for managing these birds in ways that are consistent with protecting both salmon and terns."
Beach noted that birds on or near the barge represent a significant share of the estimated 700 to 1,000 terns in Commencement Bay this year, down from 2,000 birds observed at the ASARCO site last year. That site is currently in the process of being cleared – one reason why attracting the birds to an offshore site was initially proposed, Beach said.
Koenings explained that his agency is required by law to protect and manage both salmon and terns, the latter of which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"The tern issue really puts us between a rock and a hard spot," Koenings said. "The only way we can gather the information necessary to manage terns and salmon effectively is through scientific research. This project, in particular, has helped to advance our knowledge of terns in ways that will contribute to the development of our tern management efforts throughout the state."