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Get to Know the Salmon

Salmon, one of the symbols of the Puget Sound area, are disappearing from our water. The threat to our salmon is so great that the National Marine Fisheries Service placed the chinook salmon—as well as eight other West Coast salmon and steelhead species—on the list of threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2000. 


Salmon – A Protected Species

As a threatened species, salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act, making it illegal for any person, business or government to harm them. This includes any actions that may significantly change their habitat such as introducing pollutants into the water or removing vegetation that the salmon depend on for food and cover.


Although you may not live right next to a stream or river – the choices you make can still impact our salmon. As residents of the Puget Sound area, it’s our responsibility to understand:


The life cycle of a salmon 

The challenges of salmon life

Our role in salmon preservation 


Life Cycle of a Salmon

Salmon spend part of their lives in salt water and part in fresh water. Despite its adaptability, healthy habitat conditions are essential for it to survive each of the five stages of its life.


  • Stage 1: Adult salmon lay eggs in the gravel of clean streams or lakes to incubate.
  • Stage 2: When the eggs hatch, the young fish seek shelter in the calm water of the streams or lakes and nearby wetlands.
  • Stage 3: Juvenile fish migrate downriver from the streams or lakes to live in estuaries, where they eat and
    adjust to saltwater for up to a year before continuing on to the ocean.
  • Stage 4: Juvenile fish mature in the ocean.
  • Stage 5: Adult salmon return to their home stream or lake to spawn. Pacific salmon die after spawning, and their bodies help enrich the stream or lake for the next generation.


The Pacific Northwest is home to seven different species of salmon and steelhead - coho, chinook, chum, sockeye and pink salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. Each species has developed adaptations to its area. Chinook salmon from Washington’s coast, for example, are different from the chinook salmon that spawn in the Columbia Basin. The chinook is the only salmon species in Tacoma listed under the Endangered Species Act.


Salmon Tackle Many Challenges

Salmon are resilient, managing to survive cycles of drought, flood and changing ocean conditions. They travel thousands of miles during their lifetime and still manage to make it back to their home stream or lake to spawn. We can control how we take care of the water they live in – if we don’t they may not survive the influence of people. Although a complicated system, the five H’s include the biggest challenges salmon face: Habitat degradation, Harvesting, Hatchery production, Hydropower and Habits. Habitat degradation
Landscape changes - including urban and industrial development, roads and highways, agriculture and forestry, can have a serious impact on salmon. Many Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead populations have already become extinct.

Pacific Northwest salmon are eaten throughout the world. Overfishing, or salmon harvesting, has contributed to decreased salmon populations.

Hatchery production
Salmon raised in hatcheries and released into the wild compete with native species for available food and habitat.

River dams produce hydropower to feed our increasing appetite for electricity but they can also restrict the migration of salmon to the ocean and back to spawn.

Our daily habits can have an impact on salmon habitat. Habits such as using pesticides on our lawns, improper disposal of hazardous waste and washing your car in the driveway can impact local salmon. Learn more about how your habits impact the salmon. 


Our Role in Salmon Protection

We are currently working on a number of habitat restoration projects that are already benefiting local salmon.


The City of Tacoma has also:


  • Passed a Critical Areas Ordinance requiring projects to consider salmon habitat impacts.
  • Completed a stream study as part of our sub-basin assessments.
  • Updated City wetland maps to better monitor critical areas when reviewing project proposals.
  • Participated in a public art exhibit, Soul Salmon, increasing public awareness.
  • Sponsored the Pierce Conservation District Stream Team effort.
  • Taught more than more than 500 salmon lessons in Tacoma elementary school through the EnviroChallenger program
  • Completed a Habitat Conservation Plan on the Green River Water supply project.
  • Partnered with local government agencies to address salmon recovery and protection. Learn more about salmon recovery in the Puget Sound region.


For more information on salmon habitat restoration and the Endangered Species Act visit:

The Endangered Species Act
Northwest Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service
Online Salmon Information Center for Pierce/Snohomish/King county areas
A Citizen’s Guide to the 4(d) Rule for Threatened Salmon and Steelhead on the West Coast
Stream Team