Status of Wild Salmon and Steelhead Stocks in Washington State
We describe the status and trends of wild salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and steelhead (O. mykiss) populations in Washington State. For each species, we consider statewide catch trends, and run size trends for the Puget Sound, coastal, and Columbia River regions. The utility of catch data for identifying trends in wild salmonid populations is limited by the omission of escapements and the inclusion of hatchery and non-local fish. Wild salmon and steelhead run size data have greater utility for measuring variations in abundance but typically range from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s owing to the limited availability of reliable escapement estimates. For most species through the 1970s and 1980s, run sizes increased, followed by a declining trend in the 1990s. Recent population declines are attributed to a combination of factors, including poor survival in the ocean (in part due to elevated coastal water temperatures related to a series of El Niño events), freshwater and estuarine habitat alterations, and fishing harvest.
We review a recent study by the Washington State Departments of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Western Washington Treaty Indian Tribes, which presented an initial wild salmon and steelhead stock status inventory. The Salmon and Steelhead Stock Inventory (SASS!) was the first attempt at a comprehensive, statewide inventory for these species and provided an approach for developing a list of salmon and steelhead stocks and a process for rating their current status. The term “wild stock” as used in SASS! refers to how fish reproduce (i.e., by spawning and rearing in the natural habitat, regardless of parentage), and does not refer to genetic heritage. A total of 294 wild salmon stocks and 141 wild steelhead stocks were identified in Washington State, of which 187 (43%) were rated as healthy, 122 (28%) were rated as depressed, 12 (3%) were rated as critical, 113 (26%) were rated as unknown, and one stock was rated as recently extinct. The number and percentage of stocks in each stock status category varied in different regions and by species.
The SASSI report is the first step in a Wild Stock Restoration Initiative (WSRI) that has an ultimate goal of maintaining healthy wild salmon and steelhead stocks and their habitats in order to support the region’s fisheries, economies, and other societal values. Objectives of the WSRI and other future actions include periodically reviewing and updating the salmon and steelhead resource status inventory, reviewing current resource management goals and objectives for hatchery and wild stocks and the region’s fisheries, developing and implementing recovery programs for priority stocks and habitats, and monitoring and evaluating programs. The inventory will become a part of the salmon and steelhead management cycle for the state agencies and treaty Indian tribes, guide future data collection programs, and facilitate the measurement of the short-term and long-term success in rehabilitating priority stocks. For the WSRI to succeed as a longterm restoration strategy, improved coordination and funding of programs designed to protect and restore salmon and steelhead stocks will be needed.
KeywordsPink Salmon Wild Stock Wild Salmon Stock Status Gray Harbor
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