Fish Passage Barriers

Fish Passage Barriers

Fish Passage Barriers

Icon of a pipe outfallThe Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates there are 20,000 known barriers either partially or fully blocking salmon and steelhead from reaching their spawning grounds in Washington.

Washington has been making steady progress on fixing these barriers. Since 2005, more than 3,300 barriers have been corrected. The changes made to date have opened at least 3,000 miles of habitat to salmon and steelhead.

Despite the gains, far too many salmon are blocked from reaching their destinations by a variety of human-made structures, such as dams, roads, water storage, and other structures.

Most of the barriers are created when roads intersect with streams and the streams are diverted into culverts, which are large pipes or other structures that carry the water under the roads. Most historic culverts were designed to move water not salmon. Many are aging and need to be replaced for safety as well as fish passage. Others are clogged with branches or sit too high for salmon to reach. Fixing fish passage barriers clears the path to more habitat in the watershed, especially higher quality areas upstream.

While progress has been made, an increased rate of barrier corrections is needed.

Washington State has recognized the need to correct fish passage barriers and has several efforts underway including work funded by and through the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, and Family Forest Fish Passage Program. In addition, the Washington Department of Transportation and other state agencies are correcting barriers.

Under the 1999 Forests and Fish Law, private landowners and state forestland managers in Washington have corrected more than 8,100 barriers. Large private and state forest landowners are 86 percent done with their goal and are on track to correct the fish barriers they are responsible for by 2021.

In 2001, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington sued Washington State for its failure to correct fish-blocking culverts, saying it damaged their treaty rights to fish. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling requiring four state agencies45 to correct barriers at an estimated cost exceeding $3.6 billion. This legal obligation requires full funding by the state Legislature.

In 2014, the Washington State Legislature created the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board to coordinate the removal of barriers that block salmon access to prime spawning and rearing habitat on state, local, tribal, and private lands to ensure the corrections are strategic and better coordinated.

While progress has been made, an increased rate of barrier corrections is needed.

Graphic showing good and bad culverts