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Family - Salmonidae  
Pacific salmon rely on nearshore waters and estuaries for survival during a part of their life cycle.  
Salmon use estuaries and nearshore areas for migration, juvenile rearing, refuge, and feeding.
Pacific Salmon Species  
  • chinook salmon
  • chum salmon
  • coho salmon
  • pink salmon
  • sockeye salmon
  • cutthroat trout
  • steelhead
    Estuaries and Nearshore Waters Provide...  
  • a migratory path
  • a place to adjust
  • refuge from predators
  • a rich food web
    A Migratory Path

    The nearshore region of Puget Sound includes shallow saltwater, nearby wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and bluffs. These areas are important zones for young salmon as they migrate from rivers to the sea. Salmon travel through estuaries twice; first as juveniles on their way to the sea, then as adults migrating back to spawn.
    A Place To Adjust
    Juvenile salmon move to estuaries for weeks or months as they grow and adapt to salt water before moving out to sea. Here is where salmon make a critical transformation from a freshwater to a saltwater fish, a process called smoltification. Changes in body chemistry, appearance, and behavior occur. When salmon return from sea as adults, they pause again in estuaries to adapt to freshwater, before heading upstream to spawn.  
    Shelter In Shallows
    Because predators such as larger salmon and sculpins tend to avoid the turbid waters often found nearshore, these regions provide some protection for young salmon. Shallow tidal channels with eelgrass and fringing marsh plants offer places to forage and hide.  
    A Rich Food Web
    Juvenile salmon experience the highest growth rates of their lives while in estuaries and nearshore waters. A complex detritus-based food web provides rich and abundant prey. Food production by marsh plants, seaweeds, eelgrass, epiphytes, and sediment microalgae surpasses food production in open waters. Despite the vast range of prey items to eat, juvenile salmon are very selective. The food chosen by young salmon varies with the size and age of the salmon.  

    Salmon & Shorelines: Habitat Loss

    Although salmon spend only a part of their life cycle in nearshore areas, these habitats are critical to the survival of salmon populations. Shoreline habitats of Puget Sound have suffered significant losses over the last 125 years.
    • Loss of Marshes
      When marshes are lost, young salmon lose food and shelter. Studies show a 73 percent decline in salt marsh habitats bordering Puget Sound. Nearly all salt marsh habitats within major urban areas along Puget Sound have been destroyed. The Puyallup River Delta, for example, lost 100 percent of its nearshore habitat.
    • Pollutants
      Recent studies show that juvenile salmon may suffer adverse effects from passing through polluted estuaries and nearshore areas. Human-caused stresses (toxic chemicals, pathogens and parasites) can cause immune dysfunction, increased susceptibility to disease, and impaired growth.
    • Bulkheads
      Bulkheads, seawalls, and other hard shoreline armoring structures can disrupt shore drift, starving beaches of sediments, and juvenile salmon of food and shelter. Bulkhead construction can also destroy shoreline vegetation, eliminating cover and food sources for young salmon.
    • Loss of Shoreline Vegetation
      Loss of vegetation along the shore is of particular importance to juvenile salmon. Shoreline vegetation stabilizes the shoreline, provides shade, protective cover, organic input, and food (insects) to young salmon moving in close to shore.
    • Docks & Piers
      Docks can block light to underwater habitats such as eelgrass meadows, a source of food and shelter for juvenile salmon and other marine life.

    Saving Salmon & Shorelines

    What you can do to conserve shorelines and salmon:
    • Consider alternatives to bulkhead construction.
    • Keep or install a buffer of native plants along the beach or bluff.
    • Keep pollutants from going into the Sound.
    • Keep your septic system from failing with regular inspections and maintenance.
    • Avoid trampling eelgrass on the beach or damaging eelgrass meadows while boating.

    Related Topics

    Salmon Species, Estuary use varies.
    Salmon & The Nearshore, Plants provide food and shelter.
    Salmon Life Cycle, The life cycle varies.
    Bulkheads, Bulkheads can damage salmon habitat.

    Related Links

    Puget Sound Nearshore Environments: Salmon Use, Large River Mouth, King County Department of Natural Resources. A color illustration showing zones used by juvenile salmon.

    Wild Salmon: Our Precious Natural Resource, Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife. Salmon/Steelhead species information.

    WildWatchcams: Salmon, Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife. Salmoncam.

    Salmon Friendly Seattle, City of Seattle, Washington. Seattle efforts to save salmon, salmon-friendly practices, and much more.

    Contaminant Exposure in Juvenile Salmon, NMFS Publications. Puget Sound estuaries, pollution, and juvenile salmon health.

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