The Salish Sea―encompassing Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca―supports approximately 3,000 species of marine life, including all seven species of Pacific salmon. Of these salmon, Chinook, coho, and steelhead have experienced up to tenfold declines in survival during the marine phase of their lifecycle, and their total abundance remains well below what it was 40 years ago.
By comparison, the marine survival of coastal and Columbia River Chinook, coho, and steelhead does not follow the same declining trend as the Salish Sea populations. This suggests that the problem lies within the Sea itself and not the open ocean shared by all Pacific salmonids.
Historically, our collective understanding of what drives wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead survival in saltwater has been extremely limited. Prior to the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, natural resource managers in Canada and the United States acknowledged this as a critical information gap that must be addressed in order to make real progress toward salmon recovery and sustainable fisheries. Today, the Marine Survival Project’s findings are already being applied to efforts in watersheds around the Salish Sea, to conserve and restore estuary habitat, recover herring populations as a food source for salmon, deter predators at key choke points, and test new rearing and release strategies as well as new technologies for assessing fish health to improve hatchery salmon survival. With the completion of the research phase of the project, our goal is now to see this science make a difference: to make findings and recommendations available to managers and inform strategies to keep Salish Sea salmon populations alive.
The Salish Sea ecosystem has changed significantly over the period in which salmon populations have declined. Changes have included increasing water temperatures, increasing acidity, more harmful algae, the loss of forage fish and some marine commercial fishes, changes in marine plants, and more seals and porpoises. Understanding how these changes interact with one another and influence salmon survival was a key goal of the Marine Survival Project.