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!
Statewide Salmon Watching
Salmon in Whatcom County
Salmon in Skagit County
Salmon in Kitsap County
Salmon in King County
Salmon in South Puget Sound
Tips for Salmon Viewing
- Respect the salmon, the lands and waters, and the people who steward them, especially Indigenous peoples whose cultures have been deeply connected with salmon since time immemorial. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission are good resources to learn about the relationship between tribal people and salmon in the area you’re visiting. The Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands Movement shares ways to practice respectful recreation on ancestral Snoqualmie territory.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Coho salmon rely on streams and side channels for spawning and juvenile rearing before their migration to saltwater to feed, grow and mature. They typically spawn between the ages of three and four in their natal streams. Coho and other salmon are vulnerable to many stressors including blocked access to spawning grounds and habitat degradation caused by dams, culverts and past land use practices.
One successful approach to restoring historic native coho and other salmon populations throughout the Pacific Northwest has included the removal of barriers to fish passage in conjunction with instream and riparian buffer habitat restoration.
One of fourteen Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups in Washington State, the nonprofit Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) in Bellingham, WA has successfully completed over 450 projects on salmon-bearing creeks in Whatcom County over its 30-year history. One of those is a channel modification and barrier removal project on a tributary of Goodwin Creek in the Sumas River watershed. Thanks to partnerships with three landowners and several state and federal agencies, a mile-long section of habitat has been reconnected with the native Pacific coho populations for the first time in over 30 years.
If You Rebuild It, They Will Come
Planning first began in 2015 to remove three fish passage barriers on private properties. “One of the great aspects about working on streams is the opportunity to get to know a diverse variety of landowners,” explains NSEA Project Manager Darrell Gray. “A project begins with a conversation about salmon, and grows over time to a variety of topics. Throughout the years, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know some amazing landowners. These three were particularly great to work with.”
Each of the three landowners came to the project with differing backgrounds, interests and needs. One 30-acre small business farm raises horses and cows. The second is an 80-acre farm and the third, owned by Rose Anne Featherston, is a 5-acre farm with a horse.
“It was around 2014 that I contacted the Whatcom Conservation District about participating in their CREP program,” remembers Featherston of the stream that runs just meters behind her home. The CREP, or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, is a county-based voluntary program that pays landowners to establish native tree and shrub buffers along fish-bearing streams and rivers. CREP removed about an acre of invasive blackberries and planted native plants. Native plant buffers protect water quality, develop root systems that stabilize stream banks, reduce erosion, create shade that lowers water temperature and leaf litter attracts macroinvertebrates that young salmon eat.
“When we discovered that my culvert was almost blocked, CREP connected me with NSEA.” Both Featherston and her neighbors had culverts that were too small. One culvert had a drop of more than six feet that prevented coho passage for more than three decades. But coho spotted north of the culvert were evidence that a restoration effort could be successful if done well.
The Restoration Approach
“After surveying the stream to develop project designs, it became apparent that all of the barriers should be removed at the same time to allow stored sediments behind each to move downstream, establishing a new stream gradient,” remembers Gray.
Landowners allowed NSEA teams to replace barrier culverts with two bridges and a 10’ diameter culvert as well as establish new native plantings to buffer the creek from adjacent agricultural activities.
Construction began in early September 2016 just in time for the fall rains and lasted more than three weeks. As the properties were all neighboring, NSEA was able to move equipment from one site to the next with the removal of a few fences. “This also allowed us to regrade the channel between sites to the anticipated new stream gradient,” explains Gray. “Large cobbles were added to the stream bed to maintain the new gradient and provide areas of slower moving water where salmon can rest.”
NSEA is required by permit to revegetate areas disturbed during instream projects. Work was completed by the NSEA team and native replantings were accomplished with help from six members of the Washington Conservation Corps(WCC), an AmeriCorps program administered by the Washington State Department of Ecology. They planted over 760 young native trees and shrubs across the three properties, including Western red cedar, Douglas fir, Pacific nine bark and black twinberry, all grown from bare-root stock in NSEA’s nursery.
“Within a few weeks of project completion, through my window I heard the first splashes of the salmon returning. It was amazing,” remembers Featherston who has since joined the NSEA Board of Directors to provide landowner perspective. “This year I’ve already seen opossum, eagles and coyotes feasting on salmon carcasses.” More than 40 species of vertebrates, including salmon, birds and mammals directly benefit from salmon runs by feasting on salmon, their eggs, carcasses or their young.
NSEA monitors their project sites—through spawner and vegetation surveys—for three to five years after completion to evaluate restoration efforts. In addition to counting live fish, NSEA counts dead fish and new and old redds (spawning nests), and records stream flow and visibility. Having been monitored 19 times since 2017, NSEA has now documented more than 230 adult salmon migrating upstream, many of which spawned within the project reach.
What Swims Ahead
This project demonstrates that removing barriers to fish passage, such as culverts and steep elevation changes, while improving native plant buffers along streams, can restore historic coho salmon runs in Pacific Northwest tributaries in just a few years.
“The great thing about NSEA is that they listen to landowners,” notes Featherston. “I’m impressed by how Darrell and NSEA never push landowners. They come up with creative solutions that meet the needs of diverse landowners and are gifted at striking that balance.”
This summer, NSEA will continue their instream and riparian restoration work further upstream to give these coho access to additional habitat further to the south.
“We have great appreciation for landowners like these that are curious, patient and accommodating participants,” adds Gray. “We hope this kind of work will help restore historic salmon populations and that these neighbors will enjoy the returning salmon for years to come.”
Celebrating 30 Years Restoring Sustainable Wild Salmon Runs in Whatcom County
“Seeing the coho and spring Chinook return to spawn in areas that we’ve cared for is just one of the things that makes all of this hard work feel more like a reward than an effort,” explains NSEA Executive Director Rachel Vasak. “It’s such a joy looking up at a tree we planted—once just a tiny seedling but now over 50-feet tall—or hearing community members describe the wonder they experienced as a child when they learned about salmon and habitat from NSEA over 20 years ago. Over our 30 years, we’ve completed over 450 restoration projects, educated more than 25,000 students about salmon and planted well over a hundred thousand trees in Whatcom County.”
NSEA is poised to continue this important work in the decades to come. In 2021 alone, NSEA will remove 13 fish passage barriers, improving access to over 20 miles of upstream habitat, as well as install 17 large woody debris structures and over 21,000 native plants along 7,900 feet of stream channel.
Learn more at www.n-sea.org!
Darrell Gray, NSEA Project Manager, has been with NSEA for more than 25 years. He leads NSEA’s instream and restoration projects with designs, permits and implementations.
Amy Johnson is NSEA’s Advancement Manager in charge of communications and development, supporting education, restoration, and stewardship of Pacific salmon in Whatcom County.
Lorraine Wilde is Owner and Lead Strategist at Wilde World Communications. She has published more than 250 articles and blogs, helping small businesses and organizations spread positive messages, champion social justice and protect the environment.
Every year we wait to act, more steelhead will die at the Hood Canal Bridge.
LLTK and our partners have spent the last three years hard at work finding solutions to this challenge, resulting in actionable findings that we can now use to improve fish passage at this recovery bottleneck. Late last year, Governor Inslee proposed $3.618 million to support fish passage at the Hood Canal Bridge. Now, as the State Legislature is drafting the budget for the next two years, this funding is at risk. We are finally at the point of being able to do something about the 50% mortality rate of juvenile steelhead at the bridge, but without this funding we can’t move forward.
Your state legislators have been instrumental in securing funding for this work and we are grateful for their support, but this is a tough budget year. To secure this critical funding, legislators need to know that they have your support. Funding will install and test fish guidance structures at the bridge to help juvenile fish avoid predators, and it will answer an important question that is concerning many: is the bridge also impacting returning adult salmon?
If you would like to help us avoid more steelhead death at the bridge, please contact your legislator today and ask them to fully fund fish passage at the Hood Canal Bridge! Below, you’ll find suggested text for an email and you can find your legislator HERE.
Dear Senator/Representative <last name>,
I am writing to thank you for supporting fish passage research and action at the Hood Canal Bridge and to encourage you to fully fund ($3.618 million) this shovel-ready project, the next phase of fish passage work at the Hood Canal Bridge.
Steelhead are Washington’s State Fish and listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Up to HALF of the juvenile steelhead that make it to the bridge will not survive past it. This recovery bottleneck is unacceptable and must be addressed without delay. At the Ballard Locks, Washingtonians waited too long to act and now steelhead are virtually extinct from that watershed. We cannot let this happen in Hood Canal, an area prized for its beauty and bountiful natural resources. This project will create jobs and save fish!
Please fully fund Hood Canal Bridge fish passage.
<your address, this is important so the legislator knows what district you are from>
Survive the Sound 2021 has 48 juvenile steelhead leaving the Duwamish, Skokomish, and Nisqually rivers. Each one of these rivers systems presents different challenges for these young fish and these issues are often related to habitat and human development in the watershed. Take a glimpse at the three rivers below.
The Duwamish River begins at the Green River in the Central Cascades Mountains and runs through the ancestral lands of the Duwamish People. Since the area’s industrialization, the lower Duwamish has become one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, it’s estuary is almost non-existent, and there is some disease in the system. Fortunately, the efforts from many organizations, businesses, and partnerships have made some progress on improving the area, but there is still much more work to be done. As you watch the tour, keep an eye out for Kellogg Island. This section of the Duwamish river has remained untouched over decades of development and remains a glimpse of historic estuary habitat. Get a glimpse of the lower watershed by watching the video below.
The Skokomish River flows from the Olympic Mountains to the south end of Hood Canal, a fjord. The Skokomish Indian Tribe has lived in this area since time immemorial. Human use of this area is primarily for forestry and farming and estuary restoration efforts have been significant. Once salmonids exit the river, they must travel north and navigate around the Hood Canal floating bridge. View the lower Skokomish River through Hood Canal in the video below.
The Nisqually River starts at the southern slope of Mt. Rainier and flows into South Puget Sound. The Nisqually Indian Tribe has stewarded this area long before the colonization of North America and the Tribe continues to care for this land. Over 900 acres of Nisqually estuary habitat has been restored and remains protected as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. However, Interstate 5 runs through the area posing a threat to natural habitat and creating a barrier to recovery and predators have taken advantage of some bottlenecks in the estuary. View the lower Nisqually through the estuary in the video below.
Thank you to LightHawk and their pilots for this beautiful aerial footage.
The movement to save salmon is built on many fronts. From cutting edge computer modeling with artificial intelligence to a 20-minute lesson in a 3rd grade classroom, we need progress in all areas to rebuild salmon populations for the next generation. Here are 10 things YOU can do to help save salmon and steelhead.
- Learn about Salmon. Salmon conservation and recovery requires us to deal with long standing problems, but new problems and solutions are regularly identified. Subscribing to the Long Live the Kings email list is an easy way to be updated on some of the latest salmon news. We send our quarterly e-news, Fishues, as well as special messages. Sign up at the bottom of this page. For students and educators, please visit our classroom page for lesson plans, videos, and more resources about salmon.
- Dispose of your waste properly. It’s tempting to save some time and throw everything into one garage bin, but those few seconds saved can results in environmental damage that is very difficult to undo. Get it right the first time, especially with pharmaceuticals and hazardous waste. Each city or county will have its own guidance on waste disposal, but for King County residents, follow instructions here. And, don’t forget to pick up your pet waste!
- Don’t drip and drive. Leaking fluids from a car or truck is often washed into our rivers, streams, and in front of our ocean beaches. These chemicals are toxic to wildlife and extremely difficult and expensive to remove from the water. Get your vehicle running right and help save salmon by following the tips here.
- Be RainWise. Water from storms can wash pollutants into lakes, creek, and Puget Sound. RainWise is a rebate program that helps eligible property owners manage stormwater by installing rain gardens and/or cisterns on private property. This prevents flooding, adds attractive landscaping, and can provide water for summer irrigation. If you don’t have space for a rain garden, consider adding native plants to your yard. Native plants are naturally adapted to your local climate, weather, soil types, and rainfall so they don’t need extra watering, fertilizers, or pesticides. Like a rain garden, native plants help absorb rain, hold soil, and trap runoff.
- Tell them how much you care. Every year, only a small fraction of the proposed habitat restoration and environmental monitoring projects are funded. Your elected officials care about salmon, steelhead, and the environment, but they are faced with hard decisions about what to do with limited funds. They need your support to create the laws and devote the funding necessary to save our salmon. Find and contact your legislators here.
- Understand tribal treaty rights. Since time immemorial, tribes have stewarded the Salish Sea and continue to today. Treaties guarantee tribes the rights to some natural resources, and as these resources have declined, tribes have used these rights to protect resources. Understanding this history will make you a more powerful salmon conservation advocate.
- Support businesses who support salmon conservation. When possible, we encourage you to purchase products and services from LLTK partners and business that support environmental conservation. View our partners here and learn more about Salmon-Safe products and services here.
- Buy a fishing license. We know, this one sounds counterintuitive, but sustainable fishing is critical salmon recovery. Fishing provides an opportunity to learn about the environment and build a deeper connection with this amazing resource. Between 2015 and 2017, licensing revenue contributed $12.1 million to healthy habitat. Find more info on fishing licenses here.
- Volunteer. Long Live the Kings and others have opportunities to volunteer your time to help save salmon. Planting trees and removing invasive species is a popular way to volunteer, but few people realize that your professional skill might be much more valuable. Graphic designs, advertisers, construction workers, web developers, and many others have service they can donate to fundraisers or provide directly to organization in-kind. Sign up to volunteer here.
- Donate. Your donations help Long Live the Kings launch new projects, take bold action, grow the movement to save salmon, and much more. We cannot thank our donors enough for what they have helped us accomplish. Join them here.
Are there more ways to save salmon? ABSOLUTLEY! Share your ideas below.
Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has a dual mission, restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. As such, we recognize the important role of hatcheries in mitigating for degraded freshwater habitat and providing opportunities for our fellow community members who have the rights, needs, and passion for fishing.
At the same time, we are aware of the potential and ongoing negative impacts of hatcheries, the fact hatchery fish require quality habitat too, and the importance of producing the right kind of hatchery fish that can match or adapt to environmental conditions as they change. Therefore, we are wary of the perspective that a simple across the board production increase in our existing hatchery programs is a fix to our low salmon abundance. Without a supportive ecosystem or diverse hatchery populations, more juvenile hatchery fish released may not equate to more salmon returning to our waters as adults. Further, even if increased hatchery production provides short-term gains, if done improperly, its impacts could leave people, salmon, whales and our shared ecosystem worse off in the long run.
Our ultimate goal will always be sustainable wild salmon runs, but this will take decades of work and deeper investments—especially in our most heavily urbanized or damaged areas—and strong attention to impacts of a changing climate. In the meantime, hatcheries remain a necessary tool that must be continually honed in response to new science.
The divide between people who are “pro” and “anti” hatchery is growing, and LLTK is labeled as either depending on who you ask. This polarization is unfortunate because, like many things, progress towards abundant salmon runs will be won through evaluation, understanding, common sense, compromise, and relentless improvement… not by picking sides.
We would like to take this opportunity to share our thoughts about hatcheries based on our 30+ years of history with them, and some of the issues that are intertwined with hatchery management. We offer these insights in hopes that those with management authority will consider them and take the necessary steps to assure we have salmon and steelhead for this and future generations.
LLTK has a history with hatcheries.
In the 1980s, LLTK’s first project was to transform a traditional hatchery on the Wishkah River near Grays Harbor into a workshop with multiple fish-rearing strategies targeting wild fish recovery. Since then, we have been involved with assessing, operating, and experimenting with hatcheries and transforming their management.
We currently manage two hatcheries. Our Glenwood Springs facility on Orcas Island is focused on supplementing Chinook salmon in the San Juans and the Strait of Georgia for harvest by humans and orca whales. Here, we are conducting experiments to improve the effectiveness of hatchery production, with a goal of higher survival rates at sea and larger returning fish. We also support a kokanee fishery in Cascade Lake and rear kokanee from Lake Sammamish for a wild population recovery program.
The second hatchery in Lilliwaup on Hood Canal is focused on rebuilding salmon and steelhead populations at severe risk of extinction. Our work here contributes to recovery efforts that include improved hatchery management, habitat restoration, and controlled harvest, with the combined goal of ultimately removing these populations from federal endangered species listings and restoring them to harvestable levels. This facility has shown success working with steelhead, Chinook, and summer chum. In fact, Hood Canal summer chum recovery has been so successful, it is one of only two salmon populations in Washington trending towards delisting under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In addition to operating these hatcheries, from the late 1990s through 2010, LLTK facilitated Hatchery Reform, a bipartisan Congressional effort to help align hatchery production with wild fish recovery. The objective was to reduce risks hatcheries pose to wild fish while balancing the need to satisfy tribal treaty rights and commercial and recreational harvest goals. The Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) – an independent panel of academic, federal, tribal and state scientists– was formed and charged with reviewing all hatchery programs in Puget Sound and Coastal Washington. The panel then provided recommendations to state, tribal and federal managers for creating sustainable harvest and conservation goals for salmon populations and managing natural and hatchery production toward meeting those goals. They also provided guidance on how to monitor, evaluate, and adaptively manage hatchery programs in accordance with the best available science.
The HSRG recommendations included promoting adaptation of natural and hatchery populations to local conditions, minimizing adverse genetic interactions and competition between hatchery- and natural-origin fish, minimizing the effects of hatchery facilities on the surrounding ecosystem, and maximizing the survival of hatchery fish. On-the-ground, these recommendations were tailored to the specific watershed in which a hatchery operates.
Hatchery Reform was a fundamental shift from viewing a hatchery as an isolated fish production factory to hatcheries as an integrated part of Northwest salmon ecosystems. Some of the recommended actions for improving hatcheries have not been fully implemented, limiting the effectiveness of Hatchery Reform. Additionally, gauging the success of Hatchery Reform is a long-term effort across multiple generations of salmon, complicated by a changing physical environment, climate and aquatic ecosystem. Therefore, we believe tribal, state and federal managers should continue to focus on implementing the principles and recommendations of Hatchery Reform while simultaneously evaluating and adjusting these actions to manage our hatcheries in the context of performance, new science, climate change, laws and treaties, and societal goals related to hatchery and wild fish populations.
LLTK is very concerned with the future of both hatchery and wild fish in the Pacific Northwest.
Severe declines in US and Canadian Chinook fisheries and survival of hatchery and wild fish in the ocean started well before cost-driven and ESA-related reductions in hatchery production in Washington State. Something in the marine environment changed drastically starting in the late 1970s, and the impacts continue to affect both hatchery and wild salmon. Now environmental conditions in freshwater and marine environments are becoming less favorable and reliable for salmon production, complicating management in Washington State and across the entire Pacific Northwest.
The number of hatchery Chinook salmon released into Puget Sound has been reduced since the 1980s. But because the marine survival of Chinook, coho, and steelhead from the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia) has dropped significantly over the last forty years, we are not convinced that simply increasing hatchery production will result in a commensurate increase in the number of returning adult salmon. In fact, “business as usual” hatchery practices may become increasingly less effective as we face new environmental challenges.
The Salish Sea marine environment has changed in fundamental ways, and our salmon and steelhead populations may not be keeping up. Through the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, LLTK and our US and Canadian partners have worked together to investigate the changes and what we might be able to do about it. Factors affecting food supply–like climate change–and predation appear to be the most critical impacts to juvenile salmon and steelhead across Salish Sea populations, while impacts such as nearshore and estuary habitat loss, contaminants, and disease also impact specific populations in some areas. A thorough report of these results will soon be available at www.marinesurvivalproject.com. We already have begun working with our partners to test solutions to many of these problems.
LLTK also strongly believes that there needs to be an initiative to not only protect but to increase the diversity of our salmon and steelhead, both hatchery and wild populations, to have an abundant resource now and into the future. About 40% of the wild Puget Sound Chinook populations have gone extinct, a large portion of which were earlier returning spring Chinook. Today, fewer than 10% of Puget Sound Chinook return in the spring. Habitat loss and hatcheries have also affected the genetic and life history diversity of remaining Puget Sound Chinook populations, making them more homogenous.  These impacts have removed the diversity that had developed to survive changes in climate and physical conditions over millennia. Luckily, studies show there are still significant remnants of genetic diversity in our naturally spawning populations. There is also emerging evidence that genes that control size, return timing, and other characteristics that were historically more variable are conserved in hatchery (and presumably wild) salmon, and that it may be possible to express these characteristics again through experimentation and natural processes.
Releases of juvenile Chinook from hatcheries have become less variable as well: since the 1970s, hatchery release windows have narrowed. Now, most Chinook are released into the Salish Sea around the third week of May. This differs substantially from wild Chinook which typically have prolonged, bi-modal outmigration periods with peaks in February-March and May-June.
Lower life-history variability and loss of genetic diversity, including the change in balance of early and late adult return timing in our aggregate Chinook population (hatchery and wild, combined), may be setting these fish up for reduced success as climate and conditions change rapidly in the region. These environmental changes impact some areas and times of the year more than others. Diversity in salmon populations and variability in outmigration timing may spread our odds of success so that if one group of fish struggles, there are still others to meet our societal and environmental needs. In addition, other species in the ecosystem rely on salmon as prey throughout the year, such as our endangered Southern resident orcas. Can hatchery operations be modified to support these needs?
Hatcheries need to be the best they’ve ever been.
LLTK understands that approximately 80% of the Chinook that return to Washington State are currently hatchery-origin. Given that we must balance the reality of extensive habit loss with our need to meet fisheries obligations, tribal treaty rights, and orca recovery goals, it is likely that hatcheries will continue to be a dominant form of salmon production in the Northwest.
This does not mean we should simply increase hatchery production to counter habitat loss. Instead, for the sake of the environment, and our tax dollars and fishing license fees, the quality of hatchery production is of utmost importance. We need to continuously experiment based on our understanding of salmon and how they respond to their ecosystem. U.S. and Canadian scientists and hatchery managers are working to test hatchery practices that may improve marine survival and increase the size of fish that return to our waters as adults– both widely acknowledged problems. Trial efforts to restore lost diversity in wild populations are also showing promise, for example, re-introducing spring Chinook in the North Fork of the Skokomish River. These sorts of efforts need to be supported and expanded.
If used properly–with appropriate production goals, a focus on factors affecting productivity, and well-managed risks–hatcheries can better and sustainably meet harvest needs and conservation objectives in the face of significant and ongoing habitat constraints. Continual updates and improvements to operations based on new science, refined standards, and an appreciation for new environmental realities like climate change should be a consistent part of good management. Success will require increased investment in our hatchery programs, effective and adequate monitoring (which is chronically underfunded), mutual trust and cooperation, and patience.
Opinions on hatcheries aside, we should all be working towards better habitat.
All salmon, hatchery and wild alike, need healthy habitat and clean, cold water. Increased focus is needed on habitat recovery and removing barriers to fish migration. These actions are critically important, but tragically underfunded. Conservative estimates suggest that only 20-25% of habitat actions needed to recover salmon and provide sustainable fisheries are funded. At this pace, we are hopeless to keep up with our rate of land development or even rebound from current impacts in the face of a changing climate.
Understanding that we will never have the funding to do everything immediately, we must prioritize strategically. Because our Chinook migrate from Puget Sound up the coast, the success of fisheries from Oregon to Alaska are related to protections for a few very weak wild Chinook populations in Puget Sound. Habitat recovery priorities should in part be guided by the specific recovery needs for these salmon populations. And finally, we must do much better at protecting the existing habitat we have, and that means fundamentally rethinking our relationship to the landscape, better prioritizing the needs of salmon, and being willing to make tough choices.
The bottom line.
LLTK recognizes and accepts the central role of hatcheries in supporting fishing opportunities here in Washington State, now and in the future. We recognize the intense problems for fishing communities associated with reduced returns of salmon and steelhead to Northwest rivers. We recognize that ESA listings for southern resident orcas and salmon make managing fisheries more difficult. But these challenges can be met. They must be.
As the world changes around us, wild and hatchery populations that may have been successful and able to support abundant fisheries in 1960 are proving to be less successful in 2020. We are convinced that just doing more of the same thing won’t yield the results we seek. Attempting to manage hatcheries in ways that ignore fundamental changes to the environment, new scientific findings, or competing priorities isn’t productive. We need more salmon diversity, critical analysis including effective monitoring, and determination to relentlessly improve on what we are doing today.
LLTK is advancing science and implementing solutions while we work to build a coalition of interested people and organizations to directly address these challenges based on science, rights, economics, and goals that leave our grandchildren with a better environment and more fishing opportunities.
 Partners in this effort include Hood Canal Coordinating Council and their member organizations, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, NOAA, WDFW, and others.
 See www.hatcheryreform.us for more information. In 2006, the HSRG went on to evaluate all hatchery programs in the Columbia River basin and many in California, facilitated by another party. LLTK continued working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop their own Hatchery Reform recommendations for their Northwest salmon and steelhead programs until 2010.
 NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-78 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service Independent Populations of Chinook Salmon in Puget Sound July 2006
 Losee et al. 2019. Changing salmon: An analysis of body mass, abundance, survival, and productivity trends across 45 years in Puget Sound. Fish and Fisheries 00: 1-18.
 Ruckelshaus, M.H., K.P. Currens, W.H. Graeber, R.R. Fuerstenberg, K. Rawson, N.J. Sands, and J.B. Scott. 2006. Independent populations of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. U.S. Dept. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-NWFSC-78, 125 p.
 McKinney et al. 2020. A mobile sex-determining region, male-specific haplotypes, and rearing
environment influence age at maturity in Chinook salmon. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.23.056093
 Nelson BW, AP Shelton, JH Anderson, MJ Ford, and EJ Ward. 2019. Ecological implications of changing hatchery practices for Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea. Ecosphere. 10(11):e02922.
 This project is made possible by the Skokomish Tribe and Tacoma Public Utilities.
Post updated on March 24, 2021
In partnership with PCC Community Markets and Hama Hama Oysters, LLTK hosted a webinar on December 16th where we stepped into the culinary world of salmon. In this webinar, we discussed salmon sustainability with Aimee Simpson, Director of Advocacy & Product Sustainability at PCC, and hear more about preparing salmon from Sara Harvey, the Culinary Operations & Saloon Manager at Hama Hama Oysters. Learn more about PCC’s sustainability program here and see Sara’s entire meal recipe below. Watch the webinar below.
1. 2 hours before dinner – soak the cedar board, preheat the oven to 400
2. Make the mostarda (see below) – set that to the side
3. Since you’ve opened the bottle of wine for the mostarda, pour yourself a glass
4. 1 hour before dinner – Boil the potatoes
5. Clean the greens
6. Get the salmon set up on the board
7. 30 minutes out – throw the potatoes in the oven
8. Start sautéing the greens
9. When the potatoes are almost done (about 15 minutes), throw the salmon in
10. The greens should be done by now
11. Pull the potatoes out
12. Pull the salmon out (about 10 minutes)
13. You definitely need another glass of wine at this point
14. Dinner is ready
Cedar Plank Salmon
– cedar plank
– salmon filet (find your nearest PCC here)
– fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, fresh bay – what are you using in the mostarda?)
– olive oil
1. Soak the cedar board for an hour in cold, clean water – pat dry with a towel
2. Clean the fish – leaving the skin on, and removing the pinbones
3. Lay herbs down on the cedar board, lay the salmon skin side down over the
4. Salt the fish lightly, and drizzle olive oil over the top
5. Roast at 400 for about 10 minutes, or until the salmon starts to show little beads
of white on the edges, and the fattest part of the fish is warm in the center
(cooked to medium)
6. Remove from the oven leaving on the cedar board, and lay a few lemon rings on
top of the fish while it rests
Option A – Make this sexy, more complicated Blackberry Mostarda
– about a quart of mixed berries – fresh or frozen
– a half cup of shallot, minced
– a cup of sugar – we like brown, any will work (try piloncillo, coconut, or palm)
– a cup of honey (or maple syrup)
– one half cup mustard seeds
– one quarter cup of whole grain mustard
– two tablespoons of dijon mustard
– a pinch of red chili flake
– a cup vinegar – raw apple cider is great, red or white wine will totally work – stay
away from balsamic or distilled
– a cup of red wine (tip: if you wouldn’t drink it, today – don’t cook with it)
– a generous tablespoon of chopped winter herbs – sage, thyme, rosemary all work
(though not necessarily together for this one)
– salt to taste, add towards the end
1. Add sugar, honey, vinegar, and wine to a medium sized heavy bottom pot – bring
to a gentle simmer
2. Add the mustard seeds, and cook for 5 minutes to soften them
3. Fold in the mustards, the shallot, and the chili flake
4. Fold in the berries and cook gently until the fruit begins to break up (not mushing
completely) – about 15 minutes over low heat
5. Remove from heat, mix gently, season with salt – and cool to room temperature
Option B – Throw plain blackberries on top of the cooked salmon and drizzle with a little
balsamic vinegar – *chef kiss*
Braised Winter Greens
– one bunch kale (for 2 people)
– three garlic cloves, large, chopped
– a large shallot or a small sweet onion, sliced thin
– one ounce olive oil (that’s two tablespoons if you’re playing along)
– one quarter cup chicken stock
– one tablespoon fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
– salt to taste
1. Clean the kale by stripping the leaves off the stem, and tearing roughly
2. Wash and shake dry, don’t stress it too much
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add the garlic and onion and
cook until browning and fragrant
4. Add the rinsed & torn kale, the pan will make all kinds of exciting sounds as the
residual water meets the oil, and creates steam – this will help wilt the greens
without overcooking them
5. Using a pair of tongs, toss the kale around until it starts to darken and stops
taking up so much room in the pan
6. Add the lemon juice or vinegar
7. Add the chicken stock
8. Cook until liquid is mostly gone and the greens are tender – cover if necessary or
add more chicken stock / water if you need.
9. Add a knob of butter at the end if you’re feeling decadent
10. Salt to taste
– A couple pounds of fingerling potatoes – little reds, or baby yellows would work
– Bay leaf, thyme, garlic – for the blanch pot
– Olive Oil
– Flake Salt
1. Put the potatoes, whole, in the pot
2. Fill it up with cold water
3. Add some sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, a couple garlic cloves – if nothing else, add a
generous amount of salt, the water should taste like the ocean
4. Bring the pot up to a boil, and gently simmer until the biggest potato in the pot is
5. Drain and DO NOT RINSE – pick the herbs and garlic out and toss them
6. Leave them in the colander for a while – let them steam out – this is critical
7. While the potatoes are steaming in the sink, preheat your oven to 400
8. With a wooden spoon or your hands if you have no pain receptors, gently
sploosh the potatoes, so they smash down without breaking up totally – like a ball
of cookie dough at grandma’s house.
9. Generously oil a pan with cooking quality olive oil (not extra virgin – the smoke
point on that stuff is too low for what we’re about to do)
10. Put the smashed potatoes in the pan – drizzle more olive oil over the top – I
recommend about a half cup of oil total and toss them around to make sure it’s
evenly dispersed. **This is where you really need to look at yourself and ask how much of a
good thing is too much today, because you can add practically as much
fat as you like, with the result varying from nice roasted potatoes with a
little olive oil on them, to practically confited tender sodden nuggets of
flaky starchy fatty goodness with crispy skins peeling back and curling in
the oven’s heat . You drive this bus.
Recovering salmon in our urban environments is more than correcting past environmental damage. We’re learning lessons and pioneering new methods so that growing Puget Sound communities and salmon can live together for centuries.
Over 2 million people live in King County which makes it one of the most populous counties in the Pacific Northwest. The 6 distinct watersheds in the county face a litany of environmental problems from the headwaters to the marine environment: high water temperatures, migration barriers, contaminated runoff, hardened shorelines, degraded estuary habitat, and legacy contamination.
Since 2018, Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has been working with partners in King County in a collective effort to ensure salmon thrive in our backyards. Here are some of the projects we’re working on in King County.
Improving Water Quality in the Lake Washington Ship Canal
In the Lake Washington Ship Canal, summer water temperatures can reach lethal levels for salmon leading to delayed migration, more parasites and disease and can even kill fish directly. Every migrating salmon in this watershed has to pass through the canal twice in its life and addressing this problem is an important step to save threatened runs and bring tribal and recreational salmon fishing back to Seattle.
To tackle this huge problem, LLTK is convening partners to build a common understanding of the problem based on the latest science and explore the potential options to address it. By 2022, we intend to have a completed report which is needed to guide a feasibility study and design process.
LLTK’s role in this project is made possible by a grant from King County and in-kind support from Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed – WRIA 8.
Restoration Effectiveness in the Duwamish Estuary
Working waterfronts and waterways are essential components of our economy and are fundamental to our regional identity. However, over the past century of urban industrialization, the Duwamish estuary has lost 97% of the habitat it once provided these fish. LLTK’s Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has confirmed that healthy estuaries are a critical need for young Chinook salmon: without functional estuary habitat, young salmon are less likely to survive to adulthood.
LLTK is leading a new partnership with Vigor and the University of Washington (UW)’s Wetland Ecosystem Team to restore habitat along the Harbor Island shoreline within the Duwamish estuary. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of a blue-green infrastructure approach to create functional estuary habitat for juvenile salmon along working shorelines. The partnership between LLTK, Vigor, and UW exemplifies collaboration across sectors to support the economy and environment. Lessons learned from this project will support future restoration projects within urban waterways.
Saving Lake Sammamish Kokanee
Kokanee are non-anadromous sockeye salmon, meaning they spend their entire lives in freshwater. Kokanee are culturally significant, important to regional
biodiversity, and have existed in Lake Sammamish for centuries. In the 2000s, one of the two runs in the area went extinct and the second is now on the brink of extinction.
A larger group of stakeholders is supporting a broad set of actions, including habitat restoration projects, to help recover these fish. Fresh water predation, warm water, and lack of habitat are some of the biggest problems facing these fish. In 2019, King County contacted LLTK with hope to apply our successful conservation hatchery programs used to rebuild steelhead and summer chum populations in Hood Canal, for Kokanee in Lake Sammamish. Kokanee were flown to our Glenwood Springs facility on Orcas Island where they are given cool, clean water to grow into adults and eventually spawned. In time. they will be reintroduced to Lake Sammamish to help rebuild the population.
Addressing Mortality at the Ballard Locks
Seals and sea lions are known to exploit natural and human-made features to consume thousands of salmon, the Ballard Locks being a prime example. Marine mammals are regularly seen planted in front of or inside the fish ladder, feeding on salmon trying to find a route through the Locks. Many fish don’t make it past
the Locks and some are injured so badly that they are unlikely to make it to the spawning ground. During the 1980s, virtually every strategy was implemented to separate marine mammals from fish with no success. Today, salmon are at some of their lowest numbers and steelhead are functionally extinct in the basin.
LLTK has identified a new device that has shown promising results in other situations, and we’re working with partners to deploy and evaluate it at the Locks. The device is expected to be safe for marine mammals and salmon because it uses underwater sounds at modest volumes outside the hearing range of whales or salmon. The sound startles seals and sea lions out of the area. If effective, it could be an immensely valuable tool to keep marine mammals away from salmon at migration bottlenecks.