Washington Salmon Still Face Multiple Challenges: State Report

Image: Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.

Salmon at every phase of their lives are continuing to struggle from the impact of climate change and other challenges, including habitat loss, according to the latest biennial report of the Washington state Salmon Recovery Office.

“We can’t wait to save them – we have to invest in their recovery right away by restoring habitats and doing everything possible to repel threats to their survival,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Data compiled for the “State of Salmon in Watersheds” report concludes that of the 14 population groups of salmon and steelhead in Washington listed as at-risk of extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act 10 are in crisis or falling further from recovery goals.

The report, released in late February, and accompanying website, https://stateofsalmon.wa.gov, note that salmon are facing an increasing number of challenges that are being exacerbated by climate change and other challenges including habitat loss, stormwater pollution, stream temperature, predation and barriers to migration.

“Wetter winters and more flooding brought on by climate change, combined with limited habitat for young salmon to eat and grow, are flushing young fish out of their gravel nests before they are big enough to survive,” Erik Neatherlin, director of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, said.

“As they travel to the ocean, they face polluted waters, barriers to migration, food web issues and increased predators from birds to fish. In the ocean, global and regional shifts in ocean temperature and acidity is interfering with their ability to find food and avoid predators,” Neatherlin said. “On their way home from the ocean, they are met with even more barriers to survival including hotter streams, risk of disease, blocked rivers and sea lions and seals trying to eat them.”

“That is why,” he added, “it requires all of us to work together to give salmon any chance of survival.”

Salmon populations in Washington have been declining for generations, while the human population continued to increase, with many places salmon live altered or destroyed.

Still, there were some bright spots in the report, Neatherlin said, including salmon nearing recovery, such as summer chum in Hood Canal and fall Chinook in the Snake River. Increased state and federal funding have helped, and that money will help the state begin larger recovery projects and take bigger steps, he said.

Proposed projects include the Yakima County Flood Control Zone District’s plan to setback levees on the Yakima River, reactivating the Yakima River floodplain to reduce the height and speed of the river and provide more back channels for salmon to spawn, rear and migrate.

Another is the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, in partnership with state and federal agencies, with a goal of restoring the Duckabush estuary on the western shore of Hood Canal. The project proposes to move U.S. Route 101 onto an estuary-spanning bridge, allowing the river to reconnect to its floodplain and wetlands, expanding salmon habitat.

Since 2005, 3,750 barriers to fish passage have been corrected, over 4,730 miles of stream have been made accessible to salmon and over 26,000 acres of land along waterways, estuaries and near-shore areas have hosted restoration projects.