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Losing More Than
Just Shady Sands

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- by Cap't Dave

Has waterfront Development on Puget Sound had a profound effect on fish stocks? There has been much debate over the years as to what contributed to the decline in many fish species on the Puget Sound. Some argue that oil waste runoff from freeways and parking lots contribute the most damage, others claim chemical laden sewage from failing drainage fields and unchecked outfalls is the culprit. No one doubts that the toxins from decades of heavy industry have taken its toll on the health of the waters in Puget Sound. Other suspicious activities such as bilge water from far away ports containing critters that don't belong here.

One of the more recent discoveries is the effect of the loss of near-shore habitat. Up until very recently in the geologic calendar, Puget Sound was ringed with a habitat that by and large, no longer exists here. Specifically, it's the way that shoreline vegetation, rain erosion and sea enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for thousands of years. That relationship for which spawning fish stocks evolved to depend on. One only has to stroll along a few of the natural beaches on Puget Sound to begin to understand this codependence. At first, the steep banks with their falling trees that cling precariously to life at the foot of the bluffs seem of little significance as there roles in life have perceivably come to an end. But as with so many things in life, death brings new beginnings. It's in the shade of these fallen giants, nestled in the sands below their salt-water soaked trunks, lay the spawn of many small species of fish. Candle fish, herring, and smelt need cool moist sands and timed exposure to air brought by the tides to flourish.

These small fish are an integral part of the other end of a long food chain that ends at our tables. They are the staple diet for many larger species of fish including perch, cod, salmon, and even squid. Big fish eat little fish. Now with over 800 miles of bulkheads and other encroaching developments along the sound, the once unsightly, half fallen trees clinging to banks along the shores are no longer even a memory for most. Few would miss the haphazard way that nature transitioned these majestic shorefront trees to driftwood. But what is noticeable is the lack of blue and white sea perch darting in and out of pilings along the wharves, or the fisherman's buckets of Red Snapper, Tom Cod, and True Cod (Pollack) that were bountiful only thirty years ago. Few seem to quantify what once spawned in the shade of the dying trees was the life source that put the local catch on the table.

Today the ships, trucks, and air freighters transit in fresh-frozen seafood from remote fishing grounds thousands of miles away as waterfront property owners continue to gentrify the shorelines to conform with magazine visions. Perhaps future research and shoreline management initiatives will attempt to replace the shady tidal sands with artificial structures that have been banned for several decades now.