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Survive the Sound 2022: take part in a death-defying migration

Survive the Sound returns with new ways to experience salmon & steelhead migration

For immediate release: 4/27/22

Seattle – Thousands of salmon lovers in Puget Sound and beyond are signing up for the 6th annual Survive the Sound, a virtual race to the ocean that invites players to experience life – and maybe death – from the perspective of a young steelhead. 

Graphic with a blue background reading "Pick from 48 fishy competitors", with the 48 colorful cartoon fish in 2022's Survive the Sound.

From May 2nd through 6th, participants watch on an interactive map as their fish embarks on a harrowing journey – avoiding predators, fighting disease, and navigating obstacles – on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Survive the Sound participants have until May 1st to pick their fish, build a team, and invite friends, family, coworkers, and classmates to race, competing to win a Grand Prize for the teams with the most surviving fish.

This free, interactive science game, based on migration data from real fish, is offered each spring by salmon recovery nonprofit Long Live the Kings (LLTK) to engage and educate the public about salmon and steelhead. Each of the race’s 48 creative fish avatars, most designed by artist Jocelyn Li Langrand, represents a real juvenile steelhead, implanted with an acoustic tag by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the alarmingly high death rates for these iconic, threatened Puget Sound fish. 

“The threats to species like salmon and steelhead are serious issues, but Survive the Sound is a fun way to get involved in the science and learn that the challenges are solvable,” said Jacques White, Executive Director of Long Live the Kings.  “We created the race to make salmon and salmon recovery accessible and engaging for everybody.”      

Survive the Sound participants have until May 1st to pick their fish, build a team, and invite friends, family, coworkers, and classmates to race. From May 2nd through 6th, participants watch on an interactive map as their fish embarks on a harrowing journey – avoiding predators, fighting disease, and navigating obstacles – on their way to the Pacific Ocean. 

Among the new fish joining the 2022 race are Hank and Cedar, designed by Native artists Jeanette Quintasket (Swinomish) and Paige Pettibon (Confederated Salish and Kootenai). Tribal governments, citizens, and staff are invaluable partners in salmon management and conservation in the Pacific Northwest and have provided integral support to Survive the Sound since the game began.  This year, LLTK has partnered with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and nonprofit Salmon Defense, with funding support from the Snoqualmie Tribe, to share resources on Tribes and salmon, highlighting treaty rights, cultural connections, and the leadership of Tribal communities in stewarding and recovering salmon today.

Cedar and Hank, two fish designed by Native artists, introduce classroom materials on Tribal roles in salmon management and recovery.

“What makes Survive the Sound so exciting is the large number of participants, integrating real data and spatial information about your own little steelhead, and the ability to track how many groups, schools and people participate in the program,” said Alex Gouley, habitat manager and Tribal member with the Skokomish Indian Tribe, who collaborated with LLTK on educational videos about the Tribe’s hatchery and habitat programs. “It’s important to the tribes because if we can enhance the participant’s knowledge of the salmon and habitat conditions then watershed resources will increase in value.”

“Our hope is that these educational materials will help Survive the Sound participants understand the role tribal natural resources managers play in salmon recovery, as well as the tribes’ connection to their ancestral lands,” said Peggen Frank, Salmon Defense Executive Director.

These resources will reach thousands of teachers and students, a core audience of Survive the Sound. This year, the entire Survive the Sound website, including classroom resources, is available in both English and Spanish, thanks to a grant from Boeing. Boeing’s support also funded educator tools exploring a variety of STEM careers, including interviews and live panels with local salmon scientists. Education research organization foundry10 has also contributed new marine science resources, as well as sponsoring this year’s educational Grand Prize of $1,500 for the school or classroom team with the most surviving fish at the end of the 5-day migration. The new lessons join LLTK’s suite of salmon education resources that support learning across multiple subjects, encouraging students of all backgrounds to see themselves as capable scientists, stewards, and advocates for salmon and the environment.

A juvenile steelhead carrying an acoustic tracker as it starts its migration journey.

“We love how approachable this activity is for learners who adopt a salmon,” said Lindsay Holladay Van Damme, Marine Science Program Developer at foundry10. “Just by participating, the questions start to flow out: Why did another salmon make it further than mine? Why did more salmon survive in the next river over? And since it’s all grounded in local data, there is an abundance of resources for educators to facilitate deeper exploration of these real-world questions beyond the game.”

It’s free to sign up for the game, thanks to support from sponsors who see Survive the Sound as a fun and engaging tool to raise awareness about the challenges facing Puget Sound species. Support for Survive the Sound 2022 comes from Boeing, the Snoqualmie Tribe, the Nisqually Indian Tribe, Tacoma Public Utilities, Puget Sound Steel, MiiR, Anthony’s Restaurants, foundry10, Puget Sound Express, FOX 13, Pike Place Fish Market, Pike Place Chowder, Montana Banana, Herrera, Environmental Science Associates, Manulife Investment Management, the Stalcup Family, University of Washington, Floyd Snider, BECU, TOTE Maritime, and PCC Community Markets. Participants can also donate to Survive the Sound to support LLTK’s mission to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

About Survive the Sound 2022:

Sign up for free at www.survivethesound.org by May 1.

Migration dates: May 2 – 6

General Public Grand Prize: Free chowder from Pike Place Chowder and a Hood Canal Bridge boat cruise with Puget Sound Express

Classroom Grand Prize: $1,500 educational grant from foundry10 

How Survive the Sound Works

Each year, wild steelhead are caught as they make their way downriver from their birth streams. LLTK and partners implant the fish with tracking devices as part of their larger research efforts to understand juvenile salmonid survival in the Salish Sea. Each tag emits a unique acoustic ping heard by receivers placed underwater throughout Puget Sound. This tracking data can supply locations and sometimes depth and temperature. The steelhead in Survive the Sound represent real fish that were tracked in the past and scientists at LLTK pick a representative sample of 48 fish to include each year. 

Why it Matters

Only about 15% of young steelhead survive their first trek through the waters of Puget Sound. The total number of Puget Sound steelhead at less than one tenth of the historic population and threatened under the Endangered Species Act. With these critically low numbers, the high mortality rate during the juvenile migration period is a key concern. “Unless we can better understand the reasons for steelhead’s decline in Puget Sound and mitigate the threats they face, there is serious concern that steelhead may slip into extinction,” said Jacques White, LLTK’s Executive Director.

Survive the Sound provides scientists with important new data about the steelhead lifecycle, gives the public an opportunity to engage with wild steelhead in a fun and interactive way, and raises essential funds for Long Live the Kings’ salmon and steelhead recovery projects.

To learn more, visit www.survivethesound.org.

About Long Live the Kings: Long Live the Kings is a non-profit salmon recovery organization based in Seattle. Since 1986, LLTK has been working to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

Photo of a large vertical sign reading "RAYS", unlit, silhouetted against the Ballard waterfront with the sun setting behind the Olympic mountains.

Wild About Sustainability at Ray’s Boathouse

With Earth Day around the corner, it’s a great time to renew our commitment to sustainable choices that benefit the planet – and all of us who live here. In this guest post from our partners at Ray’s Boathouse, learn about their work to support sustainable salmon and seafood from the ground up. And if you’d like to pitch in this Earth Day, RSVP to join us on Friday, April 22 to restore Snoqualmie River riparian habitat!

Sustainability and the health of our local waterways has long been an area of focus for the ownership and staff at Ray’s Boathouse. We’ve always worked hard to educate our team about what they are serving, where it came from and how it was caught or harvested. We visit our fisherpeople and other purveyors to see where our product comes from and how they run their businesses.

Since Ray’s current inception in 1973 we have put sustainability at the forefront making sure we purchase fish and seafood from those harvesting humanly and protecting the waters they fish from. Ray’s was one of the first restaurants in Seattle to obtain a wholesale fish buying license that allowed us to buy directly from fisherpeople, and our founding partner Russ Wohlers had direct relationships, often traveling to see operations firsthand. All of this offered transparency—a value we hold dear. We often meet the people who were catching our seafood and see how they were doing it. It is important to know them and understand how we were supporting their businesses and families. 

From the start we knew the importance of sourcing locally and guarding quality. We championed Salmon-Safe certified wine and beer from Washington and Oregon and were early adopters to the farm-to-table and sea-to-plate movements. These not only provide an incredible guest experience but makes our team proud to be part of a company that acts. One example is an incredible Salish Sea Chef’s Dinner we hosted at Ray’s with a group of beloved local chefs dedicated to sustainable seafood.

Nearly five years ago we took our efforts a step further and began partnering with Long Live the Kings to take an even larger role in the welfare of our local salmon runs. Through their deep knowledge and insights, we shifted our focus from one of sustainability to one of growth to ensure our salmon populations increase as our city and infrastructure continues to grow and change.

One shocking fact that stood out to us early in our partnership is that in the early 1980s there were nearly 1,000,000 Chinook salmon harvested here compared to about 200,000 in 2010. This made us want to dive in and ensure our salmon have healthy habitats and estuaries, a vital part of the ecosystem. We want to get back to the point where fisherpeople can sustainably harvest salmon from the Salish Sea as they did decades before.

Bottom line is that we do our best to ensure that our seafood comes from good people, good communities and will be sustainable. To achieve that we continue to evolve and listen to experts like Jacques White and the LLTK team about how we can help amplify their message and support their efforts. 

On this Earth Day we encourage you to do the same. What can you do to help local salmon and steelhead thrive? Donate money (no amount is too small), volunteer for field work (here’s the Ray’s team cutting blackberry bushes and planting new shrubs along riverbanks), attend an LLTK event, share a social media post, raise your voice—it all matters and it all helps keep the momentum moving in the right direction.

Douglas Zellers is the general manager and co-owner of Ray’s Boathouse on the Ballard waterfront in Seattle.

Three people stand in a concrete hatchery pond holding the top of a net. On the far edge, a group of schoolchildren watch.

LLTK receives Madrona Club grant from the Robin DiGeorgio Endowment

The Madrona Club of Orcas Island has awarded Long Live the Kings a $5,000 grant through the Robin DiGeorgio Endowment Fund, to support our Glenwood Springs Hatchery programs. The Endowment funds charitable and educational endeavors on Orcas Island in memory of Robin DiGeorgio, a long-time Orcas Island resident, artist, and Madrona Club president, whose legacy continues to positively impact her community. Long Live the Kings is honored to be among this year’s grantees. 

Glenwood Springs rears Chinook salmon to provide more fish for Southern Resident killer whales and for commercial and recreational fishing. We’re also able to test experimental practices to improve diversity and survival for hatchery-reared salmon. In a current study, we’re collecting data on whether different release timings for juvenile salmon leads to more, larger, and older fish returning to spawn. This research is critically important as our changing climate puts more pressure on the food web and salmon populations throughout the region. Our facility has also helped with efforts to recover Lake Sammamish kokanee from the brink of extinction, providing a protected environment to rear fish from this unique population and returning fertilized eggs back to their home waters.

In addition to our scientific work at Glenwood Springs, the hatchery is also an important part of the Orcas Island community. We’re proud to be a place where volunteers, students, and guests can come together to learn about salmon, practice hands-on stewardship of our natural resources, and build a sustainable future. We’re deeply grateful to the Madrona Club for sharing these values and supporting our hatchery and our fish.

Learn more about Glenwood Springs here.  

For more about LLTK’s hatcheries and the urgent need for science-driven hatchery management, read our 2021 blog post.

Photo of a beach at low tide, with exposed eelgrass lying flat on the sand.

Ecosystem Solutions Made Local: Guidance Document for the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project

The 7-year active research phase of the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project may have concluded with last year’s publication of the Synthesis Report, but that doesn’t mean the work is finished. Learning what causes Salish Sea salmon to die at alarmingly high rates as they enter the marine environment is just the first step for the SSMSP partners. Our ultimate goal is also to equip managers and decision-makers with science-backed strategies to increase their survival.

In February 2022, we released Local Level Salmon Recovery Recommendations Based on the Findings of the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, a guidance document for local salmon recovery organizations in the United States to put these findings into action. LLTK worked with salmon recovery experts at ESA to create this document, in consultation with local salmon recovery organizations and Tribes, as a toolkit to incorporate the SSMSP’s findings into watershed-level planning and projects. The actions target the issues that the SSMSP identified as key limiting factors for marine survival: local marine food supply and predation hotspots, along with strategies to address contaminants, restore estuaries, manage water quantity, and continue essential monitoring and data collection. In combination with regional-scale tools, including regional recovery plans and co-management processes, this resource provides local entities with a roadmap to support ecosystem-wide recovery in ways that best align with local conditions and goals.

Read on for more background about the Local Guidance Document and a link to the full story on ESA’s website:

Developing Local Solutions

ESA’s natural resource specialists have worked with salmon recovery lead entities and the Puget Sound Partnership to integrate adaptive management and updates into salmon recovery plans. With this understanding of fish recovery needs, the collaboration with Long Live the Kings was a natural fit.

The Local Guidance document builds on SSMSP recommendations and presents strategies and actions for local entities to apply at the local scale. It details how groups can address local impacts on marine survival rates by improving fish habitat conditions while limiting predation, enhancing food supplies, and partnering with fellow conservation efforts to accelerate estuary habitat restoration.

“The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project gave us clear evidence that environmental changes, from estuary and nearshore habitat loss to climate shifts, have impacted the entire Puget Sound food web in ways that are limiting the productivity, survival, and fitness of our juvenile salmon,” says Jacques White, Executive Director of Long Live the Kings. “This guidance document translates those findings into management and restoration actions. ESA had both the science and policy expertise that were essential to connect the research to concrete steps. We hope this toolkit provides a timely ecosystem perspective to equip local and regional salmon recovery efforts.”

“The breadth and depth of issues that salmon recovery groups are being asked to tackle continue to grow as we learn more about what it is going to take to recover these species,” notes Senior Conservation Planner Susan O’Neil, who guided the creation of the guidance document.

O’Neil explains that local recovery strategies will need to apply a holistic approach to address the complex interconnectedness of environmental factors that are contributing to the low Chinook, coho, and steelhead numbers in order to increase survival rates and meet recovery goals.

Read the full article on ESA’s website here.

Download the Local Guidance Document for U.S. Entities.

Photo of two scientists in knit caps leaning over the side of an open boat, holding up a submerged hemlock branch with a weight attached.

Recovering Herring Stocks Through Indigenous Practices

Following major findings from the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project about the important connections between healthy herring and salmon populations, Long Live the Kings is working with Tribal and other partners on methods to study and recover declining Puget Sound herring stocks. Because the loss of eelgrass and kelp beds has degraded herring spawning habitat, the Nisqually and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes are testing traditional techniques used by Indigenous coastal people to encourage herring spawn by sinking evergreen trees in nearshore areas. More forage fish, such as herring, helps salmon survival by providing both a nutritious food source for young salmon, and alternative prey for birds and mammals that otherwise feed on juvenile salmon themselves. Read on for an excerpt from our funders at the SeaDoc Society about the ecological and cultural importance of herring and what we’re hoping to learn from this project. Find the full article at the link below.

Nisqually Tribe and LLTK biologists deploy recycled Christmas trees in Puget Sound near the mouth of the Nisqually River, hoping to document herring spawn in future surveys.

Herring spawning stock has been in decline for decades and the concurrent lack of diverse spawning sites could have big implications on the Puget Sound and Salish Sea ecosystems. It’s an issue in urgent need of attention and action. 

Herring are especially important to juvenile salmonids as post-hatch larvae and small juveniles, with larger juveniles and adults being important to larger juvenile, and then adult salmon, said Paul McCollum, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s natural resources manager. 

“Elders here talked a lot about the magic in January and February, that when the herring came into the bay to spawn, the whole world woke up, with salmon coming in to eat the herring, ducks, marine birds and many other fish. It was a very big deal,” he said. “Now the herring in Port Gamble Bay are a very small fraction of what they used to be, which is likely a major issue for the crisis in salmonid stocks here in Puget Sound.”

With salmon and herring so inextricably linked in the food web, recovering salmon and the Southern Resident orcas that rely on them is directly tied to the recovery of herring. 

“We launched the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project with our partners at the Pacific Salmon Foundation 10 years ago because we knew that there were major unanswered questions about which factors were limiting early marine survival for Salish Sea salmon,” said Jacques White, executive director of Long Live the Kings. “The finding that herring stocks were so important for salmon growth and survival has led us to focus on these herring recovery efforts with our Tribal partners as a critical piece for salmon and the Puget Sound ecosystem.”

Read the full article from the SeaDoc Society.

Photograph of a road covered in running water, with yellow trees along one side brightly lit by the sun. A chum salmon is swimming, half-submerged, across the road's surface, towards the brushy undergrowth on the other side.

Salmon and Floods

Our hearts are with everyone affected by the flooding in Washington and British Columbia this week. Intense rains and floods in the Northwest are becoming more common, a consequence of climate change. Major flooding is also a concern for struggling salmon populations. Fast-moving floodwaters can scour riverbeds, washing away salmon nests and juveniles in the gravel. At the same time, heavy loads of sediment washing into streams from runoff or landslides can smother eggs and fry. 

Pacific salmon are adapted to dynamic rivers where flooding is a natural ecological process. Floods help shape habitat diversity that salmon need in their spawning rivers, creating log jams, side channels, and wetlands that are part of a healthy ecosystem. Human changes to the landscape, however, make it harder to absorb the impacts of flooding, at the same time as the warming climate means more rain and more severe floods. Deforestation makes hillsides more prone to erosion and landslides, which dump sediment into spawning habitat. Former floodplains drained for development or farming mean less room for floodwaters to spread out and slow down, putting both human infrastructure and salmon nests in harm’s way.

Photo of a road through an autumn forest, covered in several inches of running water brightly lit by the sun. A chum salmon is swimming across the road, surrounded by splashing water as it swims.
A chum salmon swims across the flooded road in the Skokomish Valley.

Along the Skokomish River, near our Hood Canal field station, the shallow stream channel naturally overflows during heavy fall rains. Today, this means the increasingly common sight of salmon crossing flooded roads in the valley. When the floodwaters recede, these fish are often stranded, unable to find their way back to the stream and their spawning grounds. For salmon populations already at risk, the combined effects of development and increasing floods are cause for serious concern.

In addition to taking action to limit climate change, communities and scientists are using green infrastructure to increase flood resilience for both salmon and people. Habitat restoration projects combat erosion and create areas where water can slow down and be safely stored in wetlands. Programs like Floodplains by Design work locally to protect farms and infrastructure from flooding, improving salmon habitat at the same time. Urban rain gardens store and clean stormwater before it reaches streams. These strategies work with natural systems to manage the risks from flooding, with mutual benefits for salmon runs and sustainable communities.

LLTK is concerned about the impacts these events have on salmon and steelhead as we face the reality that they are occurring more frequently. That is why we work with the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, Tribes, local governments and businesses, our state legislature and Congress to identify and provide funding for the most important actions to help salmon recover and thrive in a changing climate. It’s also why we are building regional and international partnerships to better understand the impacts of climate change in both freshwater and marine environments. These recent events are a reminder of the force of nature, and how our shared decisions can affect outcomes for salmon and people.

Read more: 10 ways YOU can help salmon, including by starting your own rain garden.

Survive the Sound Native Fish Designs Request for Proposal

Project Description:

Long Live the Kings (LLTK), a Seattle-based nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring wild salmon and steelhead and supporting sustainable fishing, is seeking Native artists to illustrate new fish designs to be entered in the 2022 Survive the Sound fish race. Survive the Sound is an annual education and outreach campaign dedicated to raising awareness about salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. Participants choose from 48 illustrated fish, representing data from real fish, to track during a 5-day migration each May. These fish designs seek to provide a visual representation of Native art in Survive the Sound and increase learning relevancy for Puget Sound students about Indigenous perspectives on salmon and salmon recovery. LLTK may reproduce the final image online, in printable educational materials, and on products including Survive the Sound apparel.

How to Apply:

Please email the following details to Jack McDermott (jmcdermott@lltk.org):

  • Name & contact information
  • A brief statement explaining your connection to Pacific Northwest tribes and why you want to do this work.
  • Past artwork, portfolio, or relevant work experience.
  • Preferred deliverable option (see below)

Your application will be reviewed by staff from LLTK, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and Salmon Defense. We intend to select both a youth artist (under 18) and an adult artist (over 18) to commission one final fish design each.

Due Date: Proposal is due December 31, 2021, and the final design by selected artists will be due January 31, 2022.

Deliverables & Compensation:

  • Option 1: Artist designs fish avatar by hand (any medium acceptable) for LLTK’s illustrator to digitize. Artist will work with LLTK & illustrator to create an accurate representation of artist’s design in a vector file format. Artist will deliver a scanned PDF or high-quality image of illustrated fish design. Artist receives compensation of $150.
  • Option 2: Artist designs fish avatar and delivers digital vector file. Artist may need to work with LLTK to ensure avatar reflects the general Survive the Sound style and follows the appropriate formatting guidelines. Artist will deliver a vector file (Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) with fish design of at least 800×300 pixels and at high resolution (300 ppi). Artist receives compensation of $250.

How to Design Your Fish Avatar: Use the following template (link here) to draft or illustrate your fish design. Your avatar’s design should follow the general shape of the reference fish, but creativity is encouraged! Visit this page to reference previous fish avatar designs. A draft fish design is not required upon application.

 

Outdoor photo of four children in hooded raincoats facing away from the camera, standing on logs to look over a fence at a forest creek.

Where to See Salmon in Washington State

Viewing a salmon run in the Pacific Northwest is a powerful experience. We’ve put together this list of salmon watching locations from organizations around Washington State, so you can see this epic migration in your own community. Don’t see your favorite public viewing spot here? Let us know so we can add it!

Tips for Salmon Viewing

  • Give salmon space, and stay out of the stream. They are working hard, and if you’re near the spawning grounds, the streambed may already contain redds (nests of salmon eggs). Walking in the water disturbs the fish and can kill the eggs. Learn how to spot a redd.

  • Polarized sunglasses can make it easier to see fish in the water. 

  • Learn about the different species and their behavior. The local organizations below have great resources. You can also find an identification guide from Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife here.

  • Observe the whole environment. Is the streambed rocks, sand, gravel, or a combination? Are there trees shading the water? What’s the weather like? What other animals do you see using this habitat? How much human influence can you see?

  • Bring the experience home by taking action. We have 10 ways you can help save salmon, from building a healthier environment, to contributing to science, to sharing your salmon love with your friends, family, and leaders. Many of the links below also have ways you can volunteer for salmon recovery! 

P.S. Salmon viewing can be an at-home experience too! Watch salmon returning to the Issaquah Hatchery on their live feed here. And you can join our Hood Canal steelhead underwater any time at LLTK’s livestreaming Fish Camera! 

Image is a view across the Lake Washington Ship Canal from a platform with metal railings and a red metal box, looking over several docked sailboats and fishing vessels towards trees, buildings, and boats on the opposite shoreline.

Heat Wave: Seattle salmon face lethal water temperatures on a challenging migration

Last month’s record-shattering heat wave is driving an early start to lethally warm water temperatures for salmon in the Lake Washington Ship Canal. For over a week following the heat wave, water in parts of the Canal reached above 72 degrees Fahrenheit every day, a deadly threshold that weakens salmon and can kill them if they are exposed for long. Throughout the peak of sockeye migration and as threatened Chinook start to return, temperatures near the surface have stayed above 70 degrees. 

Line graph charting temperatures at four depth levels in Lake Washington Ship Canal. Between June 29 and July 9, surface temperatures (at 18ft depth) are consistently above 72 degrees, marked as the lethal threshold for salmon.

Pacific salmon are cold-water species, adapted for mountain-fed, forested rivers and cool oceans and estuaries. Healthy water temperatures for salmon are under 58 degrees. Above 59 degrees, their bodies become stressed, making them easier targets for predators and at higher risk of disease. When water temperature reaches between 70 and 72 degrees, it forms a “migration barrier,” meaning it’s too hot for salmon to swim through, and can be lethal. These extreme temperatures have a generational ripple effect in struggling salmon populations. Even if they can survive to reach their spawning grounds, fish weakened from high temperatures are less successful in reproducing. 

Image looking down on the surface of dark water. A brown harbor seal's head emerges in the center, with the tail half of a salmon in its mouth, ending in torn orange flesh.
Heat-stressed salmon are easy prey for harbor seals in the Ballard Locks.

Human alterations to the landscape, combined with climate change, have made the Lake Washington Ship Canal an especially hot, difficult passage for Seattle’s salmon. Sockeye, Chinook, and coho salmon from the Cedar and Sammamish Rivers must pass through the Ship Canal twice during their lifetime, where these deadly warm temperatures are now routine during the summer months. Temperatures climb quickly in the artificial environment of the Canal, an abrupt shift from cool salt water to warm freshwater that puts salmon under extreme stress. At the Ballard Locks, a major barrier, salmon can be seen “holding” for days or weeks, losing vital days on their spawning migration likely in part due to the need to avoid high water temperatures. Seals and sea lions are also a frequent sight at the Locks, where waiting, weakened salmon are easy prey. Biologists suspect that the combined stress of warm water and predator harassment can be a lethal combination. 

This summer’s heat wave struck earlier than usual, at the height of the returning sockeye migration. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife observed dead sockeye around the Ballard Locks fish ladder during and after the heat wave, near the transition from cold marine water to warmer fresh water. The high temperatures are expected to continue as this year’s run of Chinook salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, start to return to the watershed in mid-July. But 2021 is not an isolated incident. High temperatures and low dissolved oxygen have been a known problem in the Canal for over two decades. Earlier this year, a report to the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8) Salmon Recovery Council found that the Canal is warm enough to harm salmon through almost all of the critical summer migration window. Between 2009 and 2019, surface waters were warm enough to negatively affect salmon an average of 87-92% of days from May to September. Parts of the canal are above 72 degrees, hot enough to block migration or kill salmon, between 12% and 24% of migration days. Thanks to the heat wave, 2021 is likely to push those averages even higher.

Image of five adult sockeye salmon viewed through a greenish glass. The fish on the bottom has a large gash on its back.
Sockeye in the Ballard Locks fish ladder in late July, as dangerously warm waters persist.

With climate change upon us, summer temperatures are continuing to get hotter, and more extraordinary records are likely to be broken. This summer has shown us just how dangerous these conditions can be for salmon who are already struggling. Experts agree that without addressing the Ship Canal, long-term salmon recovery in the Cedar and Sammamish watersheds will be nearly impossible. Like all climate resilience challenges, solving this complicated problem is an effort that will take action and involvement from everyone in our watershed community. 

Based on the findings from the recent Report, LLTK and WRIA 8 are partnering to address this urgent issue. We’re convening a team of government and community partners to review current science and evaluate strategies to improve salmon passage through the Canal. We’ll be working urgently over the next several months to find creative, collaborative, and long-lasting solutions to help salmon migrate more successfully through these difficult waters, with preliminary recommendations expected by early 2022. 

Funding support for the Lake Washington Ship Canal work group is provided by King County Water Works and the WRIA 8 Salmon Recovery Council.

Logo: King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks; Wastewater Treatment Division
Lake Washington Cedar Sammamish Watershed logo
Underwater photo of steelhead trout swimming in the same direction.

Live Fish Camera

Wildlife cameras help people connect with nature and see the world from another species’ perspective. Many of us have enjoyed watching fledglings in an eagle’s nest, or spotted cougars and coyotes passing through a wildlife corridor – but getting a view of life underwater is a little more challenging.

Thanks to a grant from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and some DIY ingenuity by our staff, now you can! Long Live the Kings has set up a live video feed in one of the steelhead rearing ponds at a conservation hatchery on Hood Canal. View the livestream any time from here or on our YouTube channel to spend some time with the fish. 

These steelhead (or rainbow trout, the freshwater variant of the same species) are part of an innovative conservation program that LLTK manages to support the recovery of Hood Canal’s native steelhead. Hatched from wild-spawned eggs, they are being raised here to help give natural populations a boost. When they are mature, they are released to spawn in the rivers and migrate to sea. (Watch a steelhead release here.

This is a live video feed, so visibility can vary. We clean off algae that builds up on the camera every few days. The fish are fed around 11:00am most days, which is a good time to see lots of activity! If you don’t have a good live view, you can watch a highlight here.