RCO is home to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, Salmon Recovery Funding Board, and the orca recovery coordinator.

Salmon Recovery

It supports a coordinated effort by organizations, lead entities, regional fisheries enhancement groups, conservation districts, nonprofits, and state, federal, and tribal governments to restore and sustain salmon and steelhead and their habitat.

Salmon Recovery for the Future

Washington leads a sustained, decades-long effort by thousands of people and the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars across the state to restore salmon and the clean water and land that sustain them.

This Work has Multiple Benefits

  • Environment
  • Quality of life and well-being
  • Fishing-dependent economies, particularly in rural areas
  • Culture, particularly for the twenty-nine federally recognized treaty tribes in Washington

State of Salmon

To learn more about how salmon are doing in your community, visit the State of Salmon in Watersheds Website.


Picture of family sitting on grass watching orcas

Orca Recovery

Washington State is home to a unique population of killer whales, the Southern Resident orcas. These whales travel in pods (J, K, and L) of extended family members from central southeast Alaska to central California but spend most of the year in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands, on the outer coasts of Washington and southern Vancouver Island.[i]

Why are Orca in Trouble?

While not all orcas are in trouble, the Southern Residents were listed as endangered by the federal government in 2005 and their numbers have dropped to the lowest level in more than forty years. These orcas face many challenges but the most important are the following:

  • Lack of food. Unlike other orcas, the Southern Residents rely mostly on Chinook salmon, which themselves are endangered. Not only are there
    fewer Chinook but they are smaller too, contributing to the lack of food
    for orcas.
  • Noise and vessel traffic. Boat traffic can impact orca behavior. Underwater noise can interrupt their communication and echolocation (the way they find their food).
  • Toxic contaminants. Orcas accumulate contaminates from the fish they eat. Too much contamination can make the orcas sick, prevent them from having babies, or cause health impacts to their young.
  • Climate Change. A warming climate is damaging salmon populations, making it harder for orcas to get the food they need.
  • Population Growth. As the human population grows, more natural areas critical to salmon survival are destroyed, contributing to lack of food for orcas.

The Task Force

In 2018, Governor Jay Inslee signed Executive Order 18-02 requiring state agencies to take several immediate actions to benefit Southern Residents. It also created the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force to develop a long-term plan to recover orcas. The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office was asked to track implementation of the task force recommendations and report on progress.

[i]Southern Resident Orca Task Force, “Final Report and Recommendations,” Olympia, WA, November 2019, p. 14

Banner photo by Charles Espey