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Infographic: West Coast Salmon and River Systems

Earthjustice works to protect three endangered or threatened salmon species from California to Washington: King, Coho and Sockeye. Habitat disruption is the main problem, but climate change increasingly threatens. All salmon species are born in freshwater, run down rivers or streams to the ocean, and return upriver to spawn and die.

King Salmon

Also known as chinook , this is the king of salmon for good reasons:
  • The largest grow to 125 lbs.
  • Lives up to 7 years.
Sacramento River winter-run is listed as endangered; Sacramento spring-run is listed as threatened.

Coho Salmon

The shiny coho is also called silver salmon.
  • Lives 1–2 years in freshwater before migrating to sea.
Originally one of the most commercially sought-after species, it is listed as threatened from the Columbia River to Northern California, and endangered on the Central California Coast.

Sockeye Salmon

Name comes from the First Nation word sukkai , meaning "fish."
  • Turns red as it migrates upriver.
  • Makes the longest run of any salmon—900 miles up the Columbia and Snake Rivers .
The Snake River run is listed as threatened.
iStockphoto & Shutterstock

Columbia/Snake River Systems

The Columbia Basin once hosted the world's greatest salmon runs—up to 16 million fish each year. Today, just a fraction of these remain—decimated by more than 200 dams thwarting salmon spawning runs.

Four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington State are driving all remaining Snake River salmon toward extinction. Since the dams were completed in the 1970s, populations have plummeted by more than 90%. As a result, fishing seasons have been severely reduced—harming fishing families and reducing the availability of fresh wild-caught salmon.


Klamath River System

The Klamath, Columbia/Snake and Sacramento/San Joaquin river systems are the only West Coast systems whose headwaters don't originate in the Coast Range. On the Klamath, five major dams block access to most of the historic spawning habitat. Stocks of coho and kings persist in the Klamath's main tributary, the Trinity River, and downstream sections of the Klamath and lesser tributaries.


Sacramento/San Joaquin River System

This system contains the second-biggest salmon-producing rivers on the West Coast. Spring-run kings in the San Joaquin were driven to extinction when access to their spawning grounds was cut off by construction of the Friant Dam. No fish ladder was included and sections of the San Joaquin River regularly dried up completely until a court case led to an agreement to partially restore the river.

The Sacramento River continues to be the number two West Coast salmon producer in most years, even though dams have reduced the amount of spawning habitat significantly.

river systems western us


First published in the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine , Fall 2013 issue.

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