Cornet Bay bulkhead removal boosts chinook salmon

Cornet Bay at Deception State Park is now  friendlier to salmon thanks to the removal of a creosote bulkhead.  -
Cornet Bay at Deception State Park is now friendlier to salmon thanks to the removal of a creosote bulkhead.
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Just east of Oak Harbor and across Saratoga Passage is the Skagit River, the largest source of ocean-bound juvenile chinook salmon in Puget Sound. They tentatively swim out of the river and linger in estuaries as they adjust to saltwater and put on weight before heading out to the open ocean.

Between the Skagit River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca is Cornet Bay, an estuary where fresh and salt water mix. It’s protected from the swift currents of Deception Pass by Ben Ure Island.

“Many people know Cornet Bay as a place to launch a boat, take a picnic or start a hike at Deception Pass State Park,” said park manager Jack Hartt in a release.

In the past month a change has been taking place. The shoreline has a new look and feel for both people and fish.

The Marine Resource Committee and Washington State Parks teamed up to remove the 40-year-old creosote bulkhead on about 800 feet of Cornet Bay shoreline. Creosote is a carcinogen which can leach into the water and harm visitors and wildlife. After the creosote logs were removed the slope was re-graded to match neighboring natural beaches.

Hartt said to finish the project, crews will plant native vegetation.

“Juvenile salmon will find it more accommodating with sand, gravel, woody debris and native plants that will attract aquatic insects and forage fish,” he said.

The MRC will continue to monitor, as they have since 2009, how salmon and forage fish use Cornet Bay.

The Puget Sound Partnership recognizes Whidbey Island shorelines as critical habitat for juvenile salmon. The more bulkheads and armoring that is removed, the better the habitat becomes for forage fish and young salmon, Hartt said, adding that in places “bulkhead removal is controversial. People want protection from storms and high water.”

According to the State Department of Ecology, bulkheads can actually cause more erosion to the beach when waves scour away sand and undercut the bulkhead, making the impact of storms even greater. Removing bulkheads can improve beach composition and intertidal habitat.

“The project at Cornet Bay will showcase how careful shoreline restoration can benefit both people and aquatic life,” Hartt said.

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