Oregon’s Pacific Salmon Expected to Make a Surprising Comeback This Year

Back in 1999, the desperate decline of the Northwest's signature fish prompted the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend federal protection under the Endangered Species Act to nine runs of salmon and steelhead. These species reside largely across Oregon and Washington. The area's rivers, once full of salmon, were polluted from industrial waste, fertilizers, and household wastes that seeped into the streams through storm drains, harming fish and diminshing their populations.

Trout poster - femalesAs news of the new endangered and threatened species listings spread around the world, artist Ron Pittard provided salmon illustrations for the March 22, 1999 issue of the US News & World Report. The illustrations of Joseph Tomelleri also appeared in Associated Press reports issued on March 16, 1999.
Trout poster - males
However, after over ten years, the situation has begun to turn around. In February 2012, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife published a forecast for the Klamath’s fall chinook run. The department estimates that almost 1.6 million fish will be in this year’s run, a number triple those on the charts dating all the way back to 1996.

The journey that Pacific salmon must make from salt water to fresh water is astonishing. Pacific salmon, which include the chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye species, hatch and live out their youth in fresh water before migrating to the ocean, where they spend most of their adult lives. Once the fish reach sexual maturity, they must swim to the freshwater stream where they were once hatched to lay their eggs. In some cases, Pacific salmon may swim  thousands of miles to return to the stream to spawn.

Many salmon die along the way due to starvation, swimming through polluted waters, or getting caught in fishermans' nets. Some salmon are forced to leap over power dams and all must evade predators such as otters, eagles, and bears. When the surviving fish actually reach their spawning grounds, they are torn, battered, and gaunt (although females are swollen with eggs). But the hardships don’t end there. Male fish must then fight other males to spawn with available females, while the females must fight with other females for a nesting spot.  

It is comforting to know that after over a decade, these beautiful fish are beginning to make a comeback in population. However, several Pacific fish species are still classified as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.

Endangered fish include:

Chinook Salmon
Avg. weight: 10 to 30 lb. (up to 135 lb.)
Avg. length: 36 inches (up to 58 inches)
Spawning grounds: up to 1,000 miles inland

Steelhead Trout
Avg. weight: 8 to 11 lb. (up to 40 lb.)
Length: up to 45 inches
Spawning grounds: fast water in mainstream rivers; medium-to-large tributaries

Sockeye Salmon
Avg. weight: 5 to 8 lb. (up to 15 lb.)
Length: up to 33 inches
Spawning grounds: Streams with lakes in their watershed as far as 700 miles inland, where young spend one to three years before migrating to sea

Threatened fish include:

Chum Salmon
Avg. weight: 8 to 15 lb. (up to 45 lb.)
Length: up to 43 inches
Spawning grounds: lower coastal tributaries, up to 100 miles inland

Below are links to Charting Nature's charts and prints used in the US News & World Report and Associated Press articles:
•    Western Gamefish Identification Chart - the west's most popular gamefish.
•    Trout, Salmon and Char of North America (Males) - males in spawning colors.
•    Trout, Salmon and Char of North America (Females) - females in spawning colors.