Local efforts helping to restore region's salmon habitats

For 54 years, the city of Issaquah has turned the annual salmon migration into a community-wide festival of music, food, and fun. This year, there is extra reason to celebrate as the region’s fish population shows signs of a rebound.

In the last three years, the Washington State Department of Transportation has spent around $600 million on fish passage improvement. As impressive as that is, the agency expects to spend more than a billion dollars on additional fish projects between now and 2027.

In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are a part of the identity. Over time, however, salmon stock numbers have gone down.

"Part of it is stormwater input into the stream, part of it is overfishing, part of it is the result of development," said Ruth Park, environmental fish passage manager for WSDOT.

In the Puget Sound, there are 59 populations of Chinook, Steelhead, and Bull Trout. All of them are listed under the endangered species act.

In 2018, NOAA Fisheries determined five Pacific Salmon stocks are "overfished."


WDFW announces record-breaking surge in Baker River sockeye salmon population

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced a record-breaking surge in the Baker River sockeye salmon population.

"Here's some of the streams that are in our backyard," Park said. "This isn't just a somewhere else thing, they're here amongst us."

Park said a big part of why we're seeing less salmon is their access to spawning.

"What exists under a lot of the roadways right now are a pretty small pipe," Park said.

The stream is carried through that pipe. The problem is, some fish aren't able to make that journey straight through. That's where WSDOT came in and made changes.

"There might not be a depth that's high enough for them to move through the summer," Park said. "The water might be coming at them too fast in the winters through the stream. Our goal is to really take that smaller pipe - we build a larger structure under the roadway. Something that looks like a bridge, kind of a structure. Then we build the stream below it so that the salmon instead of having a pipe, they have actually have a natural stream channel that they're passing under the roadway through."

As of June last year, WSDOT has corrected more than 300 fish passage barriers. That's provided more than 1,300 miles of upstream habitat.

"There's climate resiliency that comes with that," Park said. "We're building for the roadways, so these areas can handle more of the higher flood flows."

Whether you fish or not, salmon affect everyone living in the Pacific Northwest.

According to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, domestic commercial fisheries create nearly 23,000 jobs in Washington. Salmon harvest is worth almost $14 million dollars every year. Recreational fishing generates more than $1.5 billion in economic activity annually in the state.

Issaquah Salmon Days is happening this weekend. If you're from the northwest, you know this is an annual celebration for the return of the salmon -- almost two tons return each year.

People are encouraged to come to the festival, view the salmon and learn a little bit more about the species and the habitat. That's happening Saturday and Sunday at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.