Shared Strategy for Puget Sound
About Shared Strategy
What's Happening in Your Area?
Salmon Recovery Plan
Stories of Progress


Meet the Salmon

Sockeye and coho salmon, Kokanee, steelhead, rainbow and coastal cutthroat trout and native char have recently been documented in the county’s marine waters. A small number of coho salmon have recently been reported spawning in Cascade Creek and possibly other streams on Orcas Island. San Juan Valley Creek on San Juan Island and Cascade Creek on Orcas Island support introduced runs of chum.

Chum Salmon
Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
How Chinook Use the Watershed

While salmon don’t complete the freshwater portion of their life cycle in Island streams, a large number of Chinook populations from Hood Canal, Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, and Snohomish rivers are believed to spend critical portions of their life cycle along the nearshore and marine waters around the islands, both as out migrating juveniles and as returning adults. Smaller numbers of salmon from other populations are also believed to use these waters.

Salmon and the San Juan Islands



For more information, click here.

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

70% of San Juan County is forested and 9% of its land lies within 200 feet of the shoreline; primary land use is for agriculture followed by low-density residential housing.

Major islands include San Juan, Orcas, Shaw and Lopez.

Population growth rate for San Juan County is projected to be 48 % by 2020.

The planning area for San Juan under the state Watershed Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 2.

San Juan County has over 400 miles of marine shoreline, more than any other county in the United States.


Located north of Puget Sound, San Juan County is a chain of four major islands - San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw - and more than 170 smaller islands. The islands are located in the banana belt of the Northwest, so they see the sun 247 days of the year, and average only about 18-28 inches of rain annually. San Juan is the smallest county in Puget Sound but boasts 414 miles of shoreline, the most of any county in the United States. Despite 80 percent population growth in the last 20 years, the population in the San Juan Islands remains relatively small at just over 14,000. The Islands’ rural charm and character attracts tourists from around the world seeking rest and relaxation in the moderate climate and stunning vistas offered throughout the year.

The waters of the San Juan Islands are home to an abundant sea life population. Dall's porpoise, seals, Stellar sea lions, otters, and a variety of fish including salmon, lingcod and rockfish live in its waters. The most famous residents of these waters are the Orca Whales and salmon are one of their favorite foods.

Of 90 freshwater streams on the Islands, fewer than a dozen of them offer access to salmon and no listed populations spawn in them. Nevertheless, the Islands’ healthy shoreline habitat is used for refuge, rest and feeding by threatened Chinook and other salmon species from watersheds throughout Puget Sound and British Columbia. Only 20 percent of the shorelines of the San Juan Islands and the Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca have been modified and the islands’ beaches are believed to be at historic levels and still provide eelgrass meadows, kelp beds and tidal marshes. Many of these beaches provide critical habitat for spawning forage fishes such as sand lance and Pacific surf smelt. Forage fishes are a major food source for salmon.

Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover Salmon

Effective Growth Management Key to Retaining Unmarred Shorelines
The major contribution San Juan County offers Puget Sound salmon recovery efforts is high-quality nearshore habitat critical to salmon and their prey. Eelgrass meadows, kelp beds and tidal marshes still persist. However, the San Juans have one of the highest projected growth rates in Puget Sound at 48% over the next twenty years and most of the undeveloped parcels of land in the Islands are along their shorelines. Therefore, acting now to protect nearshore-marine habitat is important, as well as educating property owners about salmon friendly alternatives for shoreline development or modification.

Analysis and Further Research Will Allow Strategic Prioritization
Depending on the age, size and life strategy of particular salmon populations, they will use different parts of the nearshore and marine environments. In general, the smaller, younger salmon are more likely to stay in shallower waters. Further analysis of existing data, in combination with support from regional salmon experts, will help the county to identify and protect key habitats. Further research will enhance and refine their understanding of how various salmon populations use the county’s nearshore areas and key habitats such as eelgrass meadows and kelp beds.


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

Shoreline Protection
The San Juan Preservation Trust and the San Juan County Land Bank have purchased conservation easements or bought outright key shoreline habitat areas. These purchases will help protect or restore natural ecological processes that in turn will benefit salmon in the nearshore. Over 12 miles of forage fish spawning habitat are protected under state code (see forage fish project below). San Juan County’s shorelines support eelgrass prairies, a critical habitat, also protected under state ‘no net loss’ regulations.

San Juan Communities Value Preservation
Five percent of the county’s shorelines are fully protected and 26 percent partially protected. In 1999, 73 percent of county voters renewed the San Juan Land Bank for an additional 12 years to continue its mission of preserving the Islands’ natural heritage for present and future generations. Created in 1990 The Land Bank is funded by a one percent real estate tax on property purchases in the county. Additionally, the San Juan Preservation Trust, a private, non-profit, tax-exempt corporation founded by local residents, counsels property owners on preservation techniques and on tax benefits which might be available to them from donations of land or easements. Preservation efforts are accomplished by accepting donations of conservation easements, gifts of land, or financial contributions donated for the purchase of easements or property.

A Sound Resource
At the forefront of public-private partnerships, the San Juan County Forage Fish Project has surveyed and mapped critical habitat areas which sustain the marine life that salmon depend on. Project results include 12.6 miles of nearshore spawning habitat now protected under current Washington State Code and a baseline assessment of forage fish spawning habitat and eelgrass habitats in San Juan County. All results are public and shared with coastal planners, managers and landowners. Project partners include state agencies, the University of Washington, Friends of the San Juans and the San Juan County Marine Resource Committee. Information from the San Juan County nearshore habitat assessments is currently being applied to the prioritization of shoreline protection and restoration in SJC.

Back to Top | Back to Watershed Profiles


Shared Strategy for Puget Sound | 1411 4th Avenue, Suite 1015 | Seattle, WA 98101 | 206.447.3336