Only Coho salmon are known to spawn in streams on South Whidbey Island. Juvenile
chinook from Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Hood Canal, Lake Washington,
Green, Puyallup, White and Nisqually river likely use Island County nearshore-marine
habitats with regularity prior to moving off-shore to deeper waters. Skagit,
Stillaguamish and Snohomish populations are probably the most abundant among
these. Many adults returning to Puget Sound rivers are known to hold off
the southern tip of Whidbey prior to entering their home rivers. Bull Trout
use Island County nearshore as marine foraging areas. Chum and pink salmon
are also known to occur on Whidbey, and coastal cutthroat are present in
streams on Whidbey and Camano Islands.
|Salmon images courtesy of King County.
|How Salmon Use the
Nearshore prioritization has not been completed, but areas such as Admiralty
Inlet and Possession Point are generally recognized by the Puget Sound fisheries
community as being very important for migratory adults. Likewise, the North
and Eastern shores of Whidbey and Camano are recognized as key habitats used
by Central Puget Sound juvenile chinook (Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish).
Bull trout use shoreline habitats along Northeast Whidbey and North Camano
Salmon and Island County
For more information about salmon recovery
planning in this watershed, visit:
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read this watershed's feedback summary.
Located in the neck of Puget Sound,
Island County is nestled off the western shores of Skagit
and Snohomish counties, and the eastern shore of Kitsap
Island County includes five islands; major cities
include Oak Harbor, Langley and Coupeville.
in Island County is projected to increase 32% by 2020.
planning area for the watershed under the state Watershed
Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area
Island County is home to Whidbey, the largest island in Washington
State, and also includes Camano, Ben Ure, Strawberry and Smith islands.
Sightseers from around the world flock to Deception Pass Bridge,
which connects the north end of Whidbey Island to the mainland, to
witness one of the Northwest’s marine wonders. The 182
foot high bridge spans the drama of Deception Pass where powerful
tides push boiling currents through a narrow channel connecting
the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Saratoga Passage.
Already a popular place for outdoor enthusiasts, the county is developing
an island wide system of trails for hiking, biking and horseback
riders. A water trail for kayaks and other small vessels without
motors is also being developed. Some hardy souls go in for sail boarding,
and wet-suited surfers and divers have their favorite spots.
Chinook populations that originate in watersheds throughout southern
and central parts of Puget Sound depend on shoreline and nearshore
areas in Island County for refuge and feeding as juveniles head out
to the ocean and as adults returning to spawn. With 212 miles of
shoreline, Island County’s goal is to provide healthy marine,
nearshore, estuary and coastal stream habitats to support rearing
juveniles and migrating adults from the twenty-two distinct Chinook
populations in Puget Sound, as well as for small non-commercial runs.
The County also wants to provide healthy conditions for other salmonid
species, marine species, and freshwater species that live in or pass
through Island County waters.
Juvenile salmon feed on forage fish, insects and other food in the
nearshore to grow big and strong enough to weather the ocean conditions
they will face as adults. A forage fish is any fish eaten by large
predatory fish, seabirds or marine mammals. Forage fish are an important
link in the marine food web because they transfer energy between
primary and secondary producers, such as plankton, to top predators
such as seabirds and larger fish. Various suitable beaches in Island
County are historic spawning habitats for two types of forage fish—sand
lance and smelt—while a third, herring, spawn directly onto the
lush vegetation in the many intertidal eelgrass beds.
Major Policy or Actions
Needed to Recover Salmon
The role of the nearshore is to contribute to the range of places
used by salmon, support life history strategies to use those places,
and provide habitat capacity to ensure strong survival over time.
Nearly 80 percent of the parcels that make up the county’s
212 shore miles are developed or slated for residential development.
Approximately 25% of the shoreline has been modified (WA DNR Shore
Zone data), and more than 60% of the county’s coastal lagoons
have been isolated from natural tidal processes. When natural processes
are artificially changed, there is often a domino effect on the rest
of the ecosystem. For example, bulkheads change how gravel and sand
move along the shoreline reducing eelgrass beds in which herring,
a forage fish, lay eggs. The herring then die off reducing the amount
of food available to juvenile and adult salmon. Of the remaining
identified high-value shoreline areas, many, including Arrowhead
Marsh, Harrington and Race Lagoons are held under private ownership.
Working with and creating incentives for private landowners will
be vital for future shoreline habitat protection.
Island County is working with neighboring counties and other salmon
recovery efforts to improve and refine their strategic approach
for salmon recovery. In conjunction with county activities, the
two local groups participating in regional salmon recovery initiatives
are: (1) the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), a
citizen advisory group appointed by the county commissioners to
help conserve and restore marine life and habitat along Island
County's 212 miles of shoreline, and (2) the Water Resources Advisory
Committee (WRAC), a citizen advisory group appointed by the county
commissioners to focus on water resources issues and designated
by resolution to act as the Salmon Recovery citizens’ forum
and Watershed Planning forum. The Salmon Technical Advisory Group
(TAG), a sub-committee to the WRAC composed of citizen and agency
representatives, serves as the primary technical committee guiding
efforts to prioritize salmon habitat protection and restoration
projects under HB2496, the state’s Salmon Recovery Act.
Creating a coordinated strategy will shine the light on the most
important assessment, protection and restoration needs for salmon
and enable all the groups to invest their limited resources wisely.
Making Progress—Some Accomplishments
Two percent of the county’s 212 miles of shoreline
already enjoy full protection as Marine Protected Areas
and 2 percent are designated as partially protected Marine
The spread of the invasive marine plant species, spartina
anglica, that threatens native nearshore communities,
has been contained. The goal is to completely eradicate
Filling Data Gaps, Feasibility Studies
Efforts towards salmon recovery have focused on filling
the nearshore data gaps and developing feasibility
studies for some of the promising sites throughout
the county. The Island County MRC has taken the lead
on collecting nearshore data. Databases are currently
being completed including intensive eelgrass and forage
fish mapping, shoreline hardening mapping and feeder
bluff assessment. Island County partnered with the
Navy on a feasibility and restoration project at Crescent
Bay; and Maxwelton Salmon Adventure has completed a
feasibility study of restoration options for the Maxwelton
The Island County Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC), 12
citizens appointed by the Island County Commissioners plus a wide
range of technical advisors, serves as the citizens committee for
salmon recovery in WRIA 6. The Salmon Technical Advisory Group, a
subcommittee of the WRAC, is the primary working committee for salmon
recovery planning, project development and implementation.
In addition, the Island County Commissioners, in concert with commissioners
in six other counties, established the Marine Resources Committee
(MRC) and appointed its citizen members in August, 1999. The 13 members
represent a cross-section of the community—shore-land property
owners, the Navy, local planners, environmental advocates, marine
scientists, Washington State University's local extension program,
two local port commissions, recreational and commercial fishers,
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