Proposed plan seeks to restore salmon and steelhead across 8 million acres of California’s north-central coast

Fall 2015

Millions of wild salmon and steelhead once returned to California’s north-central coast. From Redwood Creek south to Aptos Creek, salmon and steelhead thrived in coastal watersheds. Development throughout the north-central coast over the last 100 years and the conversion of forestlands to urban and agricultural use, however, precipitated the decline of these populations. Between 1997 and 2000, California Coastal Chinook, Northern California steelhead, and Central California Coast steelhead were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as species threatened with extinction.

Spawning Chinook salmon. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Today, there is a path to recovery. NOAA Fisheries released a proposed plan to recover each of these species—addressing the threats they face and restoring the ecosystem on which they depend. The proposed plan strategically targets restoration efforts to the needs of salmon and steelhead throughout each of their life stages, from their time as juveniles in freshwater habitat, through their maturation in the ocean, and upon their return to natal streams to spawn. Using this framework, the proposed plan seeks to improve riparian habitat conditions, restore floodplains and stream channels, enhance stream flows and improve fish passage, among a series of other activities.

With science at its foundation, the proposed plan is based on the biological needs of fish. A technical team of scientists, led by NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center, developed biological viability criteria that must be met for the species to persist over the long-term. The criteria address such attributes as population size and reproductive success rates, as well as sufficient geographic distribution and genetic diversity. The idea is that by targeting on-the-ground actions to the needs of fish throughout their life-cycle we will be able to restore the populations to a healthy, viable state across the landscape.

Partnerships and collective action are the key to achieving recovery. Recovery plans themselves are voluntary, and their success is dependent on federal agencies, resource managers, local governments, and private landowners coming together to implement the actions identified in the plan. Our partners helped to shape the direction of this proposed recovery plan, and their continued engagement and support will ultimately lead to the recovery of the north-central coast’s salmon and steelhead runs.   

Juvenile Steelhead. Photo: John McMillan

Fully restoring the region’s salmon runs is challenging, but investing in salmon and steelhead recovery will provide significant economic, societal, and ecological benefits. The California commercial and recreational salmon fisheries, for instance, currently are estimated to generate $118 to $279 million in income annually and provide roughly two to three thousand jobs. With a revived sport and commercial fishery, substantial economic gains and job creation would be realized across the species’ entire range, most notably in the state’s river and coastal communities.

In addition, many of the actions identified in the proposed plan are designed to improve the natural processes of the watersheds. Not only do these actions benefit native plants and animals, but they improve surface and groundwater supplies, reduce expenditures associated with bank stabilization or flood control activities, and limit the frequency of high severity fires, among other advantages.

The proposed plan is currently available for public comment. We encourage the public and all interested parties to review the proposed plan and submit comments by December 4, 2015. In addition, we will be hosting a series of public meetings for you to learn more, ask questions, and get involved in the recovery of these species. Come join us at one of the following workshops:

VIEW the proposed recovery plan and associated materials.

GET INVOLVED in salmon recovery on the California coast.

Home page photo: NOAA