Learning about Salmon
There are five species of salmon in Washington: Chinook, chum, coho, sockeye, and pink. In addition, several sub-species have specific runs and habitat throughout the state. This unique and iconic fish used to be plentiful, but over time that has changed. As the human population in the state grew so did the need for housing and industry, and unfortunately, destruction of natural salmon habitat followed. During the 1990s, all five salmon species were listed under the Endangered Species Act. This fueled the salmon recovery movement seen today.
There were eight geographic regions and seven organizations formed to begin the challenging work of recovering salmon and their habitat. Through community action and state legislation, these organizations now implement salmon recovery strategies years in the making. Initially, these strategies were based on the four Hs of salmon recovery:
- Habitat (restoration of destroyed habitat)
- Hatcheries (reduction of competition for foot and other resources between hatchery and wild salmon)
- Harvest (reduction of fishing and exploitation)
- Hydropower (improvement or remove dams and fish barriers)
Over time, regions have adjusted these salmon recovery strategies to include addressing impacts from climate change and predation. The past has revealed these to be complex and interconnected problems that aren’t solved overnight. Washingtonians can be proud in the great strides taken so far to improve salmon and their habitat.
Click to learn more about the milestones in the salmon recovery timeline.
Salmon are a remarkable species that play a vital role in the Pacific Northwest. They spend their life making an incredible migration from freshwater, out to the ocean, and back to the stream where they were born. During this journey, salmon go through several life stages.
Click the salmon life cycle button to learn more about the different stages salmon go through.
Why Recover Salmon?
Salmon are an integral part of the lives of Washingtonians. They serve as a source of food, industry, economy, spiritual and cultural identity, and recreation.
Washington State is obligated to uphold treaty-reserved fishing rights for Indian tribes and has a duty to ensure salmon are present and available for harvest. Treaty Indian tribes co-manage the salmon resource with the State. Through treaties with the federal government, treaty Indian tribes gave up their lands in exchange for perpetual access to certain natural resources. Salmon are a sacred cultural, spiritual, and economic resource to tribes. The profound value of salmon to tribes fuels their deeply committed and strong leadership in salmon recovery.
Along with co-managing salmon, many treaty Indian tribes and tribal organizations produce reports, such as the State of Our Watersheds8 by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, that provide an ongoing scientific foundation for recovery. The tribal perspective and vision of keeping salmon strong and harvestable for future generations is a model that has maintained salmon in the rivers and can help propel successful recovery across the state.
Beyond legal and moral obligations, salmon are important to Washington’s economy, environment, recreation opportunities, food supply, and culture. Consider the following:
- Commercial and recreational fishing in Washington is estimated to support 16,000 jobs and $540 million in personal income.3
- An estimated $1.5 billion is spent annually on equipment and trip-related costs by people fishing and harvesting shellfish recreationally in Washington,5 supporting many rural families and businesses.
- Many other animals rely on salmon. Scientists estimate 138 species of wildlife, everything from whales to insects, depend on salmon for their food.4
- Salmon are woven throughout tribal cultures as a source of food, spirituality, work, art literature, heritage, and celebration.
What Does Recovery Mean?
“Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, recognizing that the natural heritage of the United States was of ‘esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our nation and its people.’ It was understood that, without protection, many of our nation’s native plants and animals would become extinct. Recovery is the process of restoring listed species and their ecosystems to the point where they no longer require Endangered Species Act protections. Endangered and threatened species may have different needs and may require different conservation strategies to achieve recovery.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
It is going to take working together and expanding those who are at the table to recover salmon. Washingtonians must work together to protect the Northwest culture. Every person can bring his or her own uniqueness to this movement, and together salmon can be saved.