Federal protection being sought for Washington Coast spring Chinook

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers have filed a petition to protect Washington coast spring-run Chinook salmon under the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to an announcement, the safeguards would apply to salmon in the Chehalis, Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Quillayute river basins on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. 

The conservation groups argue that the spring-run Chinook, who are distinct from fall-run salmon, return in the spring from the ocean to freshwater rivers, staying for many months in deep pools until fall to spawn, but the numbers are far less than in historical numbers.

“Spring-run Chinook are truly king salmon, magnificent fish prized for their size and taste and impressive for their arduous migrations into upper river reaches,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But early returning salmon are in trouble all along the West Coast, and it’s clear they require protection under the Endangered Species Act to stop their slide toward extinction.”

According to the petition, the Washington coast spring Chinook have declined significantly and are at a fraction of their historical abundance, with an average of only 3,200 adult spawning fish returning annually to Washington coast rivers. 

The groups point to threats of habitat degradation due to logging and roads, water diversions, and migration barriers that block suitable spawning habitat and prevent upstream and downstream migration. 

They also state that existing dams and a proposed new dam in the upper Chehalis River, harvest in ocean commercial fisheries and climate change.

“It’s clear that spring Chinook salmon, treasures of the Pacific Northwest, are in serious trouble in many of their home rivers,” said Pacific Rivers Board Chair Mike Morrison. “Spring-run salmon numbers on Washington’s west coast have declined steeply over decades and are now perilously low. We did not take the filing of this petition lightly, and carefully considered the facts and science before making the decision to seek legal protections.”

This petition follows a 90-day process from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that began earlier this year to list Olympic Peninsula Steelhead as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the filing, on August 1, 2022, the Secretary of Commerce received a petition from The Conservation Angler and Wild Fish Conservancy (hereafter, the Petitioners) to list the OP Steelhead DPS as threatened or endangered under the ESA.