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Meet the Salmon

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.

Bull Trout
Salmon images courtesy of King County.
How Salmon Use the Nearshore

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 islands.


Salmon and Island County



For more information about salmon recovery planning in this watershed, visit:

MRC Website
Maxwelton Salmon Adventure

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

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 County.

Island County includes five islands; major cities include Oak Harbor, Langley and Coupeville.

The population in Island County is projected to increase 32% by 2020.

The planning area for the watershed under the state Watershed Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 6.


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

Island’s Greatest Contribution to Salmon Recovery Rests in Shoreline Protection, Restoration
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.

Developing a Strategic Approach Will Focus Recovery Efforts
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.


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

Habitat Protection
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 Protection Areas.

The spread of the invasive marine plant species, spartina anglica, that threatens native nearshore communities, has been contained. The goal is to completely eradicate this species.

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 Estuary.

Organizations Involved

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, and farmers.


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