OLYMPIA–A new report released by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office shows that salmon in Washington still are struggling and face increasing difficulty brought on by climate change and other challenges.
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, according to the State of Salmon in Watersheds report and website.
“Salmon need our help, now,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Salmon are essential to our identity, ecosystems and economy. 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.”
The biennial report and accompanying website note salmon are facing an increasing number of challenges that are being exacerbated by climate change. Those challenges include habitat loss, stormwater pollution, stream temperature, predation and barriers to migration.
“Salmon face hazards at every phase of their lives,” said Erik Neatherlin, director of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “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. 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. 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 it requires all of us to work together to give salmon any chance of survival.”
Washington salmon populations have been declining for generations. As Washington grew, many of the places salmon live were altered or destroyed. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest as endangered. By the end of that decade, salmon and steelhead and bull trout populations were listed as threatened or endangered in three-quarters of the state.
The report details the challenges faced by salmon caused by climate change, habitat degradation, blocked migration routes, hydropower facilities, hatcheries, fishing and predation by other wildlife. There are, however, some bright spots in the report.
“We have some places where salmon have been growing in numbers and nearing recovery, such as the summer chum in Hood Canal and the fall Chinook in the Snake River,” Neatherlin said. “We also have seen both state and federal funding increase significantly for salmon recovery in the past year. That influx in money will help us start larger recovery projects and take bigger steps forward.”
An example of those proposed projects is the Yakima County Flood Control Zone District’s plan to setback levees on the Yakima River. The work will reactivate the Yakima River floodplain to reduce the height and speed of the river and provide more back channels where salmon can spawn, rear and migrate. Another is the work of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, in partnership with state and federal agencies, to restore 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 habitat for salmon.
In addition, the report notes that since 2005, 3,750 barriers to fish passage have been corrected, more than 4,730 miles of stream have been made accessible to salmon and more than 26,000 acres of land along waterways, estuaries and near-shore areas hosted restoration projects. “There is a lot of incredible work being done to recover salmon across the state,” Neatherlin said. “To get abundant salmon populations will require us to remove barriers, discard outdated preconceptions, listen to each other and elevate our shared values. I am confident Washingtonians will rise to the challenge.”
Photograph by John McMillan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center