Category Archives: Data

State of Our Watersheds Report: We’re failing at salmon recovery

Read more about State of Our Watersheds Report here.

The rate things are going, things are getting going to get a lot worse for salmon

The Treaty Rights at Risk report highlights an alarming trend in western Washington. If we don’t change the way we make room for our increasing population, things are only going to get worse for salmon. For example, based on the number of people we expect to live here in the future, here is how the amount of impervious surface (roads, parking lots, roofs) will change in the future:

Here’s a part of the report explaining a bit more:

In a recent geographic information system (GIS) analysis of Puget Sound land cover data and population growth rates, existing and projected trends demonstrate dramatic increases in the conversion of vegetated areas to concrete. These increases in impervious surfaces impact salmon habitat by removing essential vegetation and biota, increasing runoff, conveying pollutants, and altering hydrology. Without appropriate planning, placement, and mitigation, these actions will continue to imperil salmon.

You can find out how the map was developed here (footnote 13).

The report also outlines some other startling examples:

  • Within the Stillaguamish watershed, during the time period of 1996 through 2006, there was a decrease of 41 percent in forest cover within the Urban Growth Area and a 22 percent decrease of forest cover inside rural residential areas. Now, only 23 percent of the 1,777 acres of riparian area within the floodplain have any forest cover.
  • In the Hoh watershed, approximately 31 percent of private forestlands were harvested between 1998-2010 (post ESA listing).
  • In the Snohomish watershed, dikes, levees, and flow devices have resulted in the loss of 55 percent of critical mainstem salmon habitat.
  • In the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s usual and accustomed grounds, places such as Port Gamble Bay have had 74 percent of the shoreline armored or modified.
  • In the Skokomish basin, the watershed has experienced a 51 percent increase in impervious surfaces, with a third of that paving occurring just one mile from Hood Canal.
  • In the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s area of concern, NOAA models predict that more than half of the stream miles of known coho salmon habitat will experience pre-spawn mortality rates greater than the average, and that 141 of those miles will experience mortality rates greater than 35 percent, when under normal conditions these rates are generally less than 1 percent.

Data Focus: You can put more fish in the river, but if the habitat isn’t there, it doesn’t matter

One of the most common myths in the salmon recovery debate is that “if we just stop fishing, salmon will come back.” That assumption ignores what is really driving the decline of salmon and the reason we’ve failed so far at recovering them.

What the graphs below show is a historic trend of decreased impact on one particular chinook stock from fishing, but no corresponding increase of actual wild fish. You can limit fishing all you want, but for salmon in Puget Sound, habitat is the real key to recovery.

From the Treaty Rights at Risk whitepaper:

For more than two decades, harvest rates in all fisheries have been sharply reduced to compensate for the precipitous decline of salmon abundance in Washington state waters, but today harvest cuts can no longer compensate for losses in salmon spawning and rearing habitat.

Analysis of total U.S. harvest rates and run sizes for North Fork Stillaguamish River chinook illustrates this point. Washington harvest rates have been sharply and steadily reduced in reaction to declining returns. While this harvest action maintained spawning at targeted levels, it did not result in more fish returning to spawn, clearly indicating that factors other than harvest are responsible for the stock’s decline.

As a result, the Stillaguamish Tribe’s treaty-protected river fishery was effectively eliminated and with it, an essential element of tribal culture and source of traditional food. Although the action was not matched by other managers, the tribe gave up even its most basic treaty-reserved ceremonial and subsistence harvest for more than 25 years in an effort to ensure the conservation of this run. In recent years, the Stillaguamish people had to purchase fish from outside their river system to conduct the traditional first salmon ceremony that welcomes and honors the salmon that are the foundation of their culture.

The Basics

Damage to habitat quality and quantity:


Has led to low catches not seen since the tribal treaty right to harvest salmon was reaffirmed in the Boldt Decision:

Additional Resources

A Qualitative Assessment of Implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan, (Judge Report), NMFS, 2011

Regulating Shoreline Armoring in Puget Sound from Puget Sound Shorelines and the Impacts of Armoring, USGS, 2011

Historical Analysis of Habitat Alteration in the Snohomish River Valley, Tulalip Tribes and Snohomish County, 2001