Salmon and Other Native Fish in Portland
Our waters support six species of salmonidae (salmon and trout family):
- Chinook salmon
- Coho salmon
- Chum salmon
- Sockeye salmon
- Steelhead trout
- Cutthroat trout
More than a dozen populations of salmon and trout in Portland waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Salmonids live year-round in the city's rivers and streams in various life stages — spawning, rearing, and/or migrating. Salmon and trout habitats in Portland include:
- The Columbia River
- The Willamette River
- Fanno Creek
- Tryon Creek
- Johnson Creek
- Stephens Creek
- Balch Creek
- Saltzman Creek
- Miller Creek
- Lower Columbia Slough
Twenty-two species of fish native to Portland are present year-round in our rivers and streams. They include:
- Pacific eulachon (protected by the Endangered Species Act)
- Pacific lamprey
- Western brook lamprey
- White sturgeon
- Largescale sucker
- Several species of minnows and sculpins
Like salmon, the white sturgeon, Pacific eulachon, and Pacific lamprey all migrate to the Pacific Ocean and back to Portland waters.
Challenges for Portland’s Fish
Our rivers and streams provide critical habitat for the city’s fish. Over the last 150 years, human activities have greatly altered stream conditions in ways that have harmed the ability of several species of native fish to reproduce and thrive. Preserving natural resources can be challenging in urban watersheds. As Portland's population grows, so does its need for water, energy, transportation, and housing. These demands put pressure on the region's natural resources and change how streams and watersheds function to support fish.
Air and water pollution have a profound impact on our fish. When it rains, much of the stormwater runoff from our streets and highways drains directly to local rivers and streams – untreated. Untreated road runoff is laden with oil, gas, heavy metals, and tire dust. It is a major source of water pollution in Portland.
High water temperatures in the summer also create conditions that can be lethal to fish. Climate change will impact water temperatures as we face increasingly hotter and drier summers. Current climate conditions already favor warm-water, non-native fish. Several of those non-native fish like large and smallmouth bass and walleye prey on our native fish. Non-native fish increase competition for food and habitat. When native fish face stress in their habitat, they are more susceptible to predators and disease, and less likely to reproduce as usual, causing the population to decline.
Loss of Habitat
When we turn stream habitats into developed or buildable land, we often remove trees and plants, pave over the soil, and sometimes even cut off a stream from its floodplain, where it could overflow during the rainy season. Changing the environment in these ways has a profound impact on our fish. Riparian forests, floodplains, and wetlands are just as important to fish as stream channels. These habitats help to:
- Contribute wood structure, leaf litter, and insects for fish food and habitat.
- Provide shade along the channel to cool the water.
- Recharge groundwater so that colder water can seep back into the channel in the hot, dry summer.
How We Can Work to Address Those Challenges
Environmental Services partners and works with many local groups and organizations to protect and restore fish habitats.
We are working to manage stormwater from public spaces like streets and sidewalks to help prevent pollution from flowing into rivers and streams, and we partner with property owners to find ways to manage the rain on private property. We work with business and industries to help keep pollutants from reaching our watersheds, and the Big Pipe project has significantly reduced sewage overflow to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough to improve water quality.
We can also support salmon recovery through watershed restoration work such as:
- Removing and replacing culverts under streets and roads that block fish passage.
- Replanting stream banks with native trees and shrubs to restore the connection between the land and water.
- Adding large wood and rootwads (fallen trees) to a stream channel to create places for fish to find food and rest.
- Adjusting stream banks to slow the flow of water.
- Reconnecting streams with their natural floodplains.
- Adding in pools and riffles (shallow areas in a stream where the water ripples) for salmon and lamprey to use as resting and spawning habitat.
In 2016, the City of Portland earned the Salmon Safe certification in recognition of the City's work to bring salmon back to Portland's rivers and streams. But, our work continues. Learn more about what you can do to help support the fish in Portland's rivers and streams.