Hundreds of smelt wash ashore in Liberty Bay

Most were found near the site of a recent sewage leak.

POULSBO — Hundreds of dead smelt were discovered, washed ashore at the northern end of Liberty Bay around noon May 29. State and local officials couldn’t provide any answers as to what killed the fish either.

Most of the smelt were found in an area near the mouth of Dogfish Creek where late last month 2,000 gallons of sewage leaked from a manhole before entering the waterways and prompting the county to issue a no-contact advisory for the area. The spill affected Dogfish Creek from Highway 305 to the northern end of Liberty Bay, including all shoreline in Fish Park.

Poulsbo city officials said the clog was caused by a blockage from construction debris from nearby development.

Initially, it was reported that the fish were young salmon, however biologists with the Suquamish Tribe said the fish actually appeared to be smelt, an important food source for migrating salmon. Biologists said the occurrence did not initially appear to be due to normal ecological cycles in the bay, though a number of other causes may be attributable to the die-off.

In a recent email exchange with the North Kitsap Herald, Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson applauded the city’s work to improve the health of Liberty Bay in recent years, in turn allowing for the Suquamish Tribe to resume shellfish harvesting in their usual and accustomed grounds on the bay’s shores.

“The city of Poulsbo has worked very hard to clean up Liberty Bay, spending millions of dollars in storm water improvements and improvements to our sewer systems to prevent accidental spills,” Erickson said in her email. “It was one of my highest priorities when I became mayor in 2010. We had dozens of meetings with the health district, the county, the tribe, state department of ecology to move this process forward.”

Erickson said the bay is cleaner than it’s been in four decades, “The bay is much cleaner. Cleaner than it was in 1970.”

As for the dead smelt, Erickson did not expect that the culprit of the floating fish would be enough keep the tribe from harvesting shellfish in the area, explaining that the amount of work that went in to restoring the health of the bay, likely couldn’t be undone overnight.

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This story was first published in the Kitsap Daily News. Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.