Scientific monitoring and evaluation of recovery work must be fully funded

The indicators in this report tell us about the status of fish populations, watershed health, and implementation of recovery and sustainability plans, statewide. For details at the regional scale, please visit the individual region pages on this site.

The indicators tell us how we are doing and whether we need to adjust recovery plans. Although scientific monitoring and evaluation of recovery investments was written into recovery plans from the beginning, they have never been fully funded.

Populations: Fish and People

Adult Fish Abundance

Progress toward recovery

Washington state salmon recovery status chart 2018 - mobile

One important way to measure the health of salmon species is by counting the number of adult fish that return from the ocean to spawn in their native rivers. the chart above is a non-statistical evaluation of natural origin (wild) fish that returned to spawn.

In addition to the number of fish, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluates attributes that are not shown in this report such as productivity, life history, genetic diversity, and the spatial structure (where and when the fish migrate and spawn) of the populations. NOAA also considers threats and factors affecting the health of listed fish including habitat, harvest, and hydropower impacts.

Data Sources: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Indian tribes.

*Recovery goals for Puget Sound steelhead are under development. Draft recovery goals are available for public review at NOAA’s Web site.

Human Footprint

Washington’s population has grown from roughly 357,000 people at statehood in 1889 to more than 7.4 million today.

To better understand the effect this growing population has on the environment, scientists look at the ecological footprint of humans. An ecological footprint measures the impact one person has on the environment by looking at how much land is required to sustain him/her. An ecological footprint considers the following:

  • Diet
  • Fuel use
  • Public transportation use
  • Plastic waste creation and recycling
  • Buying habits

Globally, U.S. citizens rank sixth for their per capita ecological footprint. This means the country’s population has a much greater impact on its environment than almost every other country in the world. A recent San Francisco study found that Seattle had the highest footprint of 13 cities surveyed in the United States. See study here (pg. 6).

Population growth in Washington State is projected to continue to increase, leading to further urban development. By 2037, Washington’s population is projected to surpass 9 million people, most of whom will move to Washington from out of state.

The byproducts of this growth – urban expansion, shoreline armoring, and toxic stormwater runoff – harm salmon and damage their habitat.

Armoring our Shorelines

Nearly 27 percent of Puget Sound’s shorelines is armored to protect buildings and development. These armored shorelines destroy salmon habitat by preventing waves from grabbing sediment from land and creating sandy beaches. Instead the sandy beaches are eroded, leaving rocky beaches that are inhospitable to salmon and the fish they eat.

Removing shoreline trees and plants also damages salmon habitat. Shoreline plants shade the water, cooling it for fish. The trees and plants drop branches and leaves into the water, which provide food for the insects salmon eat and places for salmon to rest and hide from predators. Finally, the roots of the trees and plants help keep the soil from entering the water and burying spawning gravel.

Urban Expansion and Toxic Stormwater

Washington’s geography is defined by mountains, water, and arid landscapes, which has concentrated our cities near waterways. See the changes in Washington population density from 1900 to the present in this video below.

Source: WA State Office of Financial Management (Population and Forecasting Division)

Development of cities comes with roads, parking lots, buildings, and other hard surfaces. In dense urban areas, large amounts of hard or impermeable surfaces keep water from being absorbed directly into the ground. When it rains, the water runs off roofs and pavement, picking up pollution from oil, fertilizers, pesticides, garbage, and animal manure, before heading, usually untreated, into street drains and then directly into streams, bays, and the ocean. Untreated stormwater runoff contains many chemicals and has a profound impact on salmon.

Research in Washington has shown that as impervious surfaces increase, salmon populations decrease. Coho salmon are particularly susceptible. In the past decade, up to 90 percent of coho salmon in urban streams in the Puget Sound watershed died before they could spawn because of toxic stormwater runoff.

Without significant changes to how we develop our cities, human population growth will continue to harm salmon. We must reduce our human footprint on the environment and the salmon we all depend upon. For small actions you can take in your everyday life, visit How You Can Help.


Habitat Projects

Habitat Quality

While restoration efforts have improved salmon habitat, many challenges remain. We still are destroying habitat as we try to meet the needs of a growing human population. Many barriers block fish migration. Predators are gobbling up salmon as they travel to and from the ocean, and climate change is changing habitat conditions. Below are a few measures of habitat quality.


Most streams monitored by the Department of Ecology are found to have low amounts of wood when compared to relatively natural conditions. This is true, even in dry parts of the state, where natural conditions are less conducive to tree growth.

Woody materials, such as tree root wads and logs, create places for fish to rest and hide from predators. They also slow the water, which reduces erosion and the amount of sediment in the water. Slower water allows small gravels to settle to the bottom for spawning areas. Finally, woody materials change the flow of the water, creating riffles and deep cold pools, giving fish more varied habitat.


Benthic index of biological integrity (BIBI) scores are based on the relative counts of invertebrate species living in streams. They reflect overall stream condition, as related to water temperature, sedimentation, contaminants, and more. During a first statewide survey (2009-2012), the extent of stream lengths estimated to have poor biological integrity ranged from 17 percent in the Lower Columbia River and Upper Columbia River Salmon Recovery Regions to 44 percent in the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Region. During the next survey, extent of poor scores ranged from 9 percent in the middle Columbia region to 40 percent in the lower Columbia region. We estimate that stream health improved in the Puget Sound, Snake River, and Middle Columbia River Salmon Recovery Regions. It remained unchanged in the Washington Coast Salmon Recovery Region, and got worse in the Lower Columbia River Salmon Recovery Region. More monitoring is necessary to see if these patterns persist and represent trends.


Too much sediment in streams harms salmon by smothering fish eggs, changing the shape and route of the stream, and reducing stream capacity to hold floodwater or provide cover for fish or prey. The Department of Ecology evaluated the amount of sediment on the bed of streams where salmon/trout live. Their data indicate that excess sediment (more than 18.5% of the stream bed) occurs in most salmon/trout streams . The percentage of the Middle Columbia River Salmon Recovery Region salmon/trout streams with excess sediment may be increasing. The percentage of the Lower Columbia Salmon Recovery Region salmon/trout streams with too much sediment may be decreasing. We need more monitoring to gain certainty in these patterns.



This map shows the amount of copper in stream-bottom sediments statewide as measured by the Department of Ecology’s Watershed Health Monitoring program from 2009 through 2012. The highest values occur in forested portions of southwestern Washington. We do not know the sources of this sediment copper. More monitoring is needed.

Copper adversely impacts how fish smell and can affect how a fish locates food, avoids predators, and finds its home streams, among other things. Consequently, fish exposed to high copper levels are more vulnerable to being eaten by predators.

If we reduce the amount of sediment that reaches streams, especially where sediment contains copper, we will lessen the threat to salmon and other aquatic species.


The graph shows the extent of streams in the salmon recovery regions estimated to have high stream-side disturbance. During the second statewide sampling round, stream length with highly disturbed riparian zones decreased in the Puget Sound, Snake River, and Middle Columbia River Salmon Recovery Regions, and increased in the Lower Columbia River and Washington Coast Salmon Recovery Regions. More monitoring is necessary to see if this pattern persists and represents a trend.


During the first statewide sampling round, stream length with poor riparian cover ranged from 12 percent (Coast Salmon Recovery Region) to 27 percent (Upper Columbia River Salmon Recovery Region). The next round of sampling indicated that conditions improved in four regions, and declined in the Middle Columbia River Salmon Recovery Region, an area exceptionally affected by drought. More monitoring is necessary to see if this pattern persists and represents a trend.



Water Quality


Cold, clean water is essential for salmon and steelhead. This water quality measurement looks at temperature, acidity, and levels of oxygen, bacteria, nutrients, and sediment. The overall quality of our state’s waters, not considering toxics, has improved since 1994. The water quality at 48 percent of long-term water quality monitoring sites are improving. Declines were seen at only 4.6 percent of the monitoring sites while 47.4 percent show no significant trend from 1994-2017.


Water Quantity


When streams don’t have enough water in the summer, the water can become too warm and kill fish. Too little water also can strand fish and prevent them from swimming to better habitat. The good news is the amount of water in streams in summer seems to be improving: 48 percent of the 46 monitoring stations assessed in western Washington and 63 percent of the 19 monitoring stations assessed in eastern Washington show stable or increasing flows.



Funding charts in this report show 1999-2017 salmon recovery funds by region and project type, administered by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.

The Recreation and Conservation Office is a state agency that administers multiple funds and staffs multiple boards, including the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. The charts in the Web site indicate how the funding was distributed across the state.

These charts represent the following funding sources:

State Sources: Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, Catastrophic Flood Relief Program, Coastal Restoration Initiative Grants, Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Family Forest Fish Passage Program, Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, Salmon Recovery Fund, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Federal Sources: Coded Wire Tag Program, Environmental Protection Agency, hatchery reform funds, Land and Water Conservation Fund, Marine Shoreline Protection, Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Puget Sound Chinook critical stock program.
How do I get more information on the projects? The Salmon Recovery Funding Board awards funding to projects during public meetings and presents detailed information online to ensure the funding process is visible and accountable to the public. Information on individual projects can be viewed on the Recreation and Conservation Office’s Project Snapshot and the Habitat Work Schedule.

Recovery Plan Progress

Recovery Plan Implementation Progress

This indicator is measured by comparing the actions implemented against what is recommended in the regional recovery plan. The data sources for this indicator are the regional salmon recovery organizations. Percentages are statewide averages based on estimates made by each recovery region of its progress implementing actions in recovery plans. These regional estimates are based on best professional judgment. The estimates describe progress in implementing recovery plan actions, and do not reflect the biological response of fish.



The Hatchery Scientific Review Group made recommendations for improving hatcheries in Washington. Eighty-eight percent of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatcheries are consistent with the independent the review group’s recommendations for proper broodstock management.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has updated and submitted new hatchery genetic management plans to meet NOAA Fisheries requirements under the Endangered Species Act and support salmon recovery. The map shows the department’s hatchery program locations, and whether each program has a Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan.




Data Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Data is for hatchery and wild coho and Chinook salmon caught (tribal and non-tribal) in the state’s rivers and the ocean as reflected on sport catch record cards and commercial landings.

Visit How we measure for background about this data, and our Salmon Data Portal for original source data behind the indicator charts and graphs used throughout this site.