Washington’s coast has some of the best habitat remaining and strongest runs of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the state. The region is home to more than 50 percent of the state’s non-listed populations.
The protection and restoration of rivers, lakes, and estuaries are essential to long-term sustainability of wild salmon and to the resiliency of coastal communities and tribes for whom salmon are a way of life.
Increasing floods, shrinking glaciers, and warming streams are significant challenges that influence the region’s approach to salmon habitat restoration.
Progress and Challenges
- Fish barriers block the spawning migration of adult salmon and prevent juvenile salmon from reaching cold-water refuges in the summer and high-flow refuges in the winter. Since 2000, the region has used habitat restoration grants to remove 262 barriers, opening more than 650 miles of habitat to salmon. Additional work on private and state timberlands has opened 1,160 miles of fish habitat.
- In-stream habitat provides food and shelter for juvenile salmon and spawning gravel for adult salmon. Since 2000, the region has restored 79 miles of stream and placed 1,042 wood structures into streams.
- Off-channel habitat also provides food and shelter for juvenile salmon and critical spawning areas for salmon. Since 2000, the region has re-connected 150 acres and restored 1,444 acres of off-channel habitat.
- Riparian (streambank) habitat provides shade for streams, delivers food, and grows trees for future stream habitat. Since 2000, the region has restored 8,175 acres of riparian habitat.
- Estuarine habitat is critical for the growth and survival of young salmon migrating to the ocean. Since 2000, the region has re-connected 300 acres and restored 2,664 acres of estuarine habitat.
- Decreasing numbers. In some coastal rivers, the number of spring Chinook and sockeye salmon and steelhead is decreasing and is not meeting goals for adult spawners. In recent years, this has resulted in new fishing restrictions and even fishing closures.
- Lake Ozette sockeye salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and low returns have not improved with time.
- Changing climate. Increased flooding and more frequent river channel migration threaten both salmon habitat and human-made infrastructure. Fish-friendly solutions to the changing environment require innovative thinking. Collaboration between those working to protect infrastructure and those working to restore salmon has been essential.
- Salmon migration barriers. There remain nearly 4,000 known barriers to salmon migration throughout the region. Local partners are working together to prioritize their efforts and fix barriers that will have the greatest benefits for salmon.
- Invasive plants. Invasive plants establish rapidly and inhibit the native streamside processes that shade streams, deliver nutrients to the rivers, and grow trees for future river habitat. Continued monitoring and maintenance are needed to address this threat.
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About the Region
The Washington Coast Salmon Recovery Region, with its predominance of forests and few major cities, represents the last, best chance to protect existing salmon populations from further decline and restore them to healthier levels. The region still has the fish populations and the streams, rivers, and estuaries to support them. However, the region’s salmon are at historically low numbers, reminding us that much hard work lies ahead. Changing environmental conditions are of increasing concern. Larger and more frequent floods, shrinking glaciers, and warming streams threaten both the sustainability of salmon populations, built infrastructure, and property. Not only must salmon habitat be protected and restored but fish-friendly solutions for protecting and repairing critical infrastructure are essential. Fortunately, the Coast Salmon Partnership, a strong coalition of local governments, tribes, residents, and nonprofits, recognized the importance of striking a balance between habitat protection and habitat restoration and for the need to conduct their work with climate change in mind. The partnership continues to be committed to managing for sustainable salmon stocks and avoiding additional Endangered Species Act listings through strategic project planning and implementation rather than recovery planning.