Puget Sound Salmon Conservation—Admirable change, the “Washington Way”

Puget Sound

Over the past 30 years, wild salmon numbers have depleted due to over fishing, habitat destruction, dams, and hatchery salmon competition. These pressures are just one of the many side effects of the four million people who occupy the Puget Sound area. By 1999, most of the species of salmon that once flourished in WA waters were listed as endangered species in three fourths of the state and completely disappeared from 40% of their native spawning habitats in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.

Needless to say, the situation was getting pretty grim. Even “good-willed” hatchery programs created salmon that competed with the wild salmon as well as not acting like a natural salmon. Hatchery salmon and trout now compete with wild salmon as well as inter-breed which is quite a scare for the already shaky population of true wild salmon.

Despite these disastrous conditions for the salmon, they are still present today. In large this can be due to the federally recommended Salmon Hatchery Reform Project (SHRP). In 2000, nine scientists decided the whole salmon management system needed a reform and congress responded with funding for the project. Finishing their study in 2005, they made recommendations to the whole salmon hatchery industry based on observational problems and scientifically sound methods going forward.

Salmon hatchery success is not just about making more salmon, but about making natural salmon. Hatchery salmon previously were fish held in a water tank and fed pellets for a few months before being released—these salmon didn’t have a clue on what it was like living outside of a glass tank. The reform project brought issues like this to light and now all hatcheries are encouraged to produce more life-like scenarios like underground tunnels, more life-like prey, as well as other genetic requirements for release.

The SHRP did not just stop there. They also made recommendations on the habitat for salmon spawning—including recommended regulations for river-side development. Their recommendations were not taken lightly either. Armed with a framework from the SHRP, the Salmon Recovery Plan was launched in 2007—with a budget of $1.42 billion over the next ten years. Some of the most notable changes implemented in the budget:

  • Removal of 220 barriers for fish migration
  • Restoration of thousands of acres of wetlands, estuaries, and uplands
  • Restoration of 188 miles of streams
  • Protection of 348 miles of stream and stream habitat
  • Installation of 456 fish screens
  • Removal of invasive species from 3,700 acres of rivers, estuaries, and wetlands

Without these efforts, Washington would’ve put the final nail in the coffin for the pacific salmon of our region. However, hopefully these efforts create a second wind for these salmon.

It is understandable that four million people are going to have a drastic impact on the salmon, their habitat, and their natural lifecycle. However, the launch of the SHRP and the Salmon Recovery Plan have been dubbed, “The Washington Way” via salmon conservation enthusiasts nationwide because of how aggressively, responsibly, and scientifically this problem is being approached. We cannot eliminate our presence in the area, but we can make a true effort to reduce our impact on salmon’s natural lifecycle.

Zach is an avid fisherman from the Puget Sound area and writes about all things fishing on his blog Fishing Reports.

Puget Sound photo via Shutterstock

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