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Steelhead


Steelhead trout can reach up to 55 pounds (25 kg) in weight and 45 inches (120 cm) in length, though average size is much smaller.  They are usually dark-olive in color, shading to silvery-white on the underside with a heavily speckled body and a pink to red stripe running along their sides.
         
Steelhead are a unique species; individuals develop differently depending on their environment. While all steelhead hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, some stay in fresh water all their lives. These fish are called rainbow trout. The steelhead that migrate to the ocean develop a much more pointed head, become more silvery in color, and typically grow much larger than the rainbow trout that remain in fresh water.  Adults migrate from a marine environment into the freshwater streams and rivers of their birth in order to mate (called anadromy). Unlike other Pacific salmonids, they can spawn more than one time (called iteroparity). Migrations can be hundreds of miles.
         
Young animals feed primarily on zooplankton. Adults feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish eggs, minnows, and other small fishes (including other trout).  Steelhead are capable of surviving in a wide range of temperature conditions. They do best where dissolved oxygen concentration is at least 7 parts per million. In streams, deep low-velocity pools are important wintering habitats. Spawning habitat consists of gravel substrates free of excessive silt.
 
Habitat: 
Steelhead are capable of surviving in a wide range of temperature conditions. They do best where dissolved oxygen concentration is at least 7 parts per million. In streams, deep low-velocity pools are important wintering habitats. Spawning habitat consists of gravel substrates free of excessive silt.
 
Critical habitat for 10 west coast steelhead DPSs was designated on September 2, 2005.
 
Distribution: 
In the United States, steelhead trout are found along the entire Pacific Coast. Worldwide, steelhead are naturally found in the Western Pacific south through the Kamchatka peninsula. They have been introduced worldwide.
 
Population Trends: 
In recent years, some populations have shown encouraging increases in population size while others have not. Population trends for specific populations can be found in the 2005 status review report for Pacific salmon and steelhead.
 
Threats: 
Salmonid species on the west coast of the United States have experienced dramatic declines in abundance during the past several decades as a result of  
various human-induced and natural factors. However, given the complexity of the salmon species life history and the ecosystem in which they reside, there is no single factor solely responsible for this decline. 
 
For more information, please visit our Pacific salmonids threats page.
 
Conservation Efforts: 
A variety of conservation efforts have been undertaken with some of the most common initiatives including captive-rearing in hatcheries, removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration, restoration of degraded habitat, acquisition of key habitat, and improved water quality and instream flow.
 
The Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) was established by Congress in 2000 to support the restoration of salmon species. The fund is overseen by NMFS and carried out by state and tribal governments. The 2006 PCSRF report summarizes their work in detail.
 
For more information about Steelhead click here.
 
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2013
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