Washingtonians depend on salmon for food, recreation, jobs, cultural identity, and community. These iconic fish bring out the best Washington has to offer. They represent clean water, a healthy environment, and a thriving economy. As we look to the future, we must think about big solutions to the problems facing salmon.

What’s Hurting Salmon? 

There are many things that have contributed to the decline of salmon populations. Generally, it comes down to two things:

  • Humans: We have damaged their habitat, hindered their migration, and polluted their waters. We’ve overfished, forced them to compete for limited resources, and made their journey home that much harder. 
  • Environmental changes: On top of all this, they face fluctuating marine conditions, climate change, increases in predators, and other problems.

As Washington’s population has grown, its salmon have dwindled. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Snake River sockeye, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the next few years, 16 more species of salmon were listed as either threatened or endangered.

By 1999, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California.

In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state.

Salmon Species Listed Under the Federal Endangered Species Act

Hood Canal summer chum and Snake River fall Chinook are demonstrating large successes and continue to push toward recovery. Other species, such as Puget Sound Chinook and upper Columbia River spring Chinook are falling further behind. In most of the state, salmon are below the abundance recovery goals set in our federally approved recovery plans.

*Recovery goals for Puget Sound steelhead are under development.

One important way to measure the health of salmon species is by counting the number of adult fish that return from the ocean to spawn in their native rivers. The chart above is a non-statistical evaluation of natural origin (wild) fish that returned to spawn.In addition to the number of fish, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluates attributes that are not shown in this report such as productivity, life history, genetic diversity, and the spatial structure (where and when the fish migrate and spawn) of the populations. NOAA also considers threats and factors affecting the health of listed fish including habitat, harvest, and hydropower impacts. Data Sources: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Indian tribes.

Visit the State of Salmon in Watersheds Web site to learn more about how fish are doing in your community and the problems they face. The Web site also includes data about the amount of fish, watershed health, and the implementation of salmon recovery plans.

Visit our Progress page to learn more about our efforts to restore salmon and their habitat.