Fish Habitat and Hatcheries
Our habitat restoration and conservation efforts are intended to accelerate fish survival and recovery. Due to historically declining salmon populations, we are focused on preservation of wild salmon.
Chinook salmon are a very important species of the Pacific Northwest. The largest of all Pacific salmon, Chinook (also called king salmon) provide a food source for a diversity of wildlife and are also highly valued by people who harvest salmon commercially, recreationally, and for culturally significant purposes. While in the ocean, Chinook salmon can grow to weigh more than 40 pounds and are silver in color, which protects them against predators in salt water. The tail, back and upper fins have irregular, black spots. After returning to fresh water streams to spawn, Chinook salmon turn darker in color and undergo other changes. Male Chinook salmon develop a hooked nose and, unlike females, have a ridged back when they return to their natal waters to spawn. Most Chinook salmon live about three to seven years, spending their first year or so in freshwater habitat. They then move to the estuaries and open ocean where they spend two to four years feeding before they make the return journey to spawn and die. Chinook are known as long-distance swimmers and will travel to the farthest reaches of the Columbia to spawn. Whether this species of salmon is defined as a spring, summer or fall-run Chinook depends on the season in which it begins its migration back from the ocean.
Sockeye are the third most abundant of the Pacific salmon (behind pink and chum) and are a keystone in the North American commercial fisheries. They are also a popular in recreational fisheries. Sockeye salmon have a four-year lifecycle and are among the smallest of the five North American Pacific salmon species. Their succulent, bright-red meat is prized above all others. Like Chinook salmon, they are born in freshwater. However, sockeye require a lake nearby to rear in. Once hatched, juvenile sockeye usually remain in their natal habitat for two years; sometimes longer in colder waters located in northern climates. They then journey out to sea where they grow rapidly for two years, feeding mainly on zooplankton. Sockeye are known for their beauty, with bright silver flanks and contrasting dark blue backs, which is why the common name of Columbia River sockeye is “blueback.” Upon their return upriver to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn bright red with light specks on their backs and their heads take on a deep green color.
Coho salmon are the second largest of the Pacific salmon. They can reach lengths of 35 inches and weigh more than 30 pounds. They are also referred to as silver salmon. In the ocean, coho salmon have dark metallic blue or greenish backs with silver sides and a light belly. Fish spawning in freshwater are dark with reddish-maroon coloration on the sides. Prior to the 20th century, large numbers of coho returned annually to the Wenatchee and Methow rivers. However, impassable dams, commercial overfishing, unscreened irrigation diversions, and habitat degradation all contributed to the virtual disappearance of coho in these rivers. More recently, efforts have increased to reintroduce Coho salmon to the mid and upper-Columbia River.
Washington state designated steelhead as its official state fish in 1969. Steelhead are the ocean-going (anadromous) version of rainbow trout. Like most salmon, steelhead return to the Columbia River to spawn. Unlike salmon, they do not spawn upon their arrival to the spawning grounds and then die, but rather overwinter and spawn the following spring. Steelhead can recover and return to spawn multiple times. Overfishing, water diversions, and other habitat alterations have taken a toll on runs of summer steelhead. These conditions have resulted in critically low numbers of Upper Columbia River summer steelhead, which prompted their listing under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, most steelhead spawning in the wild are fish that were raised in a hatchery.