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Washington ‘State of Salmon’ Report: Seven ESA-Listed Populations Showing No Recovery Progress
Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2017 (PST)

In most of Washington State salmon recovery goals are not being met.


Of the 33 genetically distinct populations of salmon and steelhead found within the borders of the state, 15 are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and seven of those populations are not making progress or are declining relative to recovery goals, according to an annual report from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s salmon recovery office.


“State of Salmon in Watersheds,” released this month, outlines Washington’s progress in listed salmon and steelhead recovery efforts. The report concludes that continued investment at the state, federal and local levels is required if some of the most threatened and endangered species are to be saved.


The full report can be found at An accompanying interactive website is at According to a press release from the governor’s office, the website provides live data from around the state and offers interactive maps to help visitors learn about salmon recovery efforts in their communities.


“Washington State has been investing in salmon recovery for nearly two decades, and we are seeing some results,” Inslee said. “But we still have many challenges ahead, such as population growth and climate change. Salmon are a crucial component of our economy. Families depend on them for food and jobs. They are crucial to our identity as Washingtonians. We can’t give up on salmon recovery until they are taken off the endangered species list. Salmon are ours to save.”


Some of the more dire findings from the report are:


--Of the 15 listed species, seven are not making progress or are declining, six are showing signs of progress but still below recovery goals approved by NOAA Fisheries. Just two are approaching recovery goals.


The Governor’s 2015 report also showed two species approaching recovery goals, four below recovery standards but showing improvement, four showing consistently low numbers and four exhibiting decreasing abundance trends.


(See CBB, February 27, 2015, “New Report Documents Washington State’s Salmon Recovery Efforts,”


The 2016 report says:


--Commercial and recreational harvests have declined significantly because of fewer fish and limits on how many fish can be caught to protect the wild components of fish runs. Harvest of coho salmon has fallen from a high of nearly 3 million in 1976 to fewer than 600,000 in 2014, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Chinook salmon harvests are also dropping: about 970,000 chinook were caught in 1973 compared to 316,000 in 2014, the report says.


--In addition, the newly created Fish Barrier Removal Board is far from meeting its goals. Despite two decades of investments, about 35,000 to 45,000 barriers to fish passage remain.


-- Puget Sound chinook, Puget Sound steelhead and upper Columbia River spring chinook are not only below recovery goals, they are actually getting worse.


-- Of those not making progress, but also not losing, are upper Columbia River steelhead, lower Columbia River chum salmon, lower Columbia River fall chinook and lower Columbia River spring chinook.


-- Species showing signs of progress are middle Columbia River steelhead, Lake Ozette sockeye salmon, lower Columbia River coho, lower Columbia River steelhead, Snake River spring and summer chinook and Snake River steelhead.


-- Hood Canal summer chum and Snake River fall chinook are approaching their recovery goals.


There is some good news, especially in habitat restoration and hatchery reform, according to the report.


--For the first time, more permits were obtained in 2014 to remove shoreline beach walls and bulkheads than there was to build new ones in Puget Sound. Softer, more natural shorelines help increase food and shelter for salmon, the report says.


--Hatcheries are operated in more fish-friendly ways. Hatcheries operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife release millions of fish annually for harvest by recreational, commercial and tribal fishers. Hatchery fish compete with wild salmon for resources.


Today’s hatcheries operate to ensure they don’t harm wild salmon and steelhead, the report says. Some 88 percent of the state’s hatchery programs meet scientific recommendations to ensure conservation of wild salmon and steelhead, compared with only 18 percent of hatcheries meeting those recommendations in 1998.


--Although the Fish Barrier Removal Board has a daunting task still in front of it, some 6,500 barriers to fish passage have been corrected with fish-friendly culverts and bridges in Washington streams since 2000. That opened up about 6,400 miles of habitat to salmon.


--Restoration projects have improved salmon habitat along more than 800 miles of shoreline and more than 4,400 acres of estuary. The state itself has spent nearly $884,000 on salmon recovery since 1997.


One example is a Tulalip Tribes project that restored tidal flow to 350 acres on the Snohomish River, providing unrestricted fish access to 16 miles of upstream spawning and rearing habitat. Another example is a WDFW project that is setting back a mile-long coastal dike to restore the natural tidal flow of Skagit Bay to 131 acres.


”We have nearly 20 years of effort by thousands of Washingtonians statewide to recover salmon,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which is home to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “We know how to recover salmon, and we have the people in place to do the work, but the challenges – climate change, poorly managed development and lack of data and funding – are accelerating. Salmon are in trouble, and we need to increase our efforts and investments.


“When we fix our rivers and watersheds, we not only help salmon, we help ourselves,” Cottingham said, pointing to the benefits of restoration in local communities. “We get cleaner air and water, less flood damage, more opportunities for recreation and other natural resource-based industries and communities that are more resilient in the face of warming temperatures, drought, forest fires and sea level rise.”


The report’s recommendations for what needs to be changed to improve salmon recovery includes better integrating harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions; fully funding regional recovery organizations and increasing state agency resources to meet salmon recovery commitments; restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat; and increasing monitoring of fish and habitat to fill in data gaps.


“It took more than 150 years to bring salmon to the brink of extinction; it may take just as long to bring them all the way back,” Cottingham said. “But every bit of progress we make today delivers long-lasting benefits for all. Now is the time to reinvest and recommit to salmon recovery in our state.”


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