Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office
Pacific Region

What We Do

Our work at the Western Washington Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office (WWFWCO) addresses a variety of fish and aquatic conservation priorities throughout western Washington. This work ranges widely from data collection at National Fish Hatcheries to population monitoring for threatened and endangered species to habitat restoration. All of this work involves partners from Federal, State, Tribal, local-government, and non-governmental organizations. Descriptions of our various focus areas and example projects are found below.



Monitoring habitat complexity (Photo: USFWS)   Hatchery sampling (Photo: USFWS)  
Coho smolts in Lake Sammamish (Photo: USFWS)
Hatchery sampling (Photo: USFWS)
Hatchery Evaluation   Fishery Management Assistance   Habitat Restoration   Population Assessment

Hatchery Evaluation

Hatchery Evaluation (Photo: USFWS)The Hatchery Monitoring and Evaluation Program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office performs several tasks, from ensuring hatchery production is marked/tagged to providing science-based evaluation and guidance of hatchery operations. Additionally, the Program seeks to carry out and evaluate hatchery reform principles and recommendations that were established by the USFWS Olympic Peninsula Hatchery Review Team. Across the three Puget Sound/Olympic Peninsula Complex hatcheries (Quilcene, Makah, and Quinault), approximately 4.2 million Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and steelhead are annually marked and/or tagged to identify hatchery origin and evaluate returns.

When fish return to the hatcheries, fish are enumerated and biosampled to evaluate population demographics by collecting data on species, sex, age, size, tags, and genetics. We then assess the contribution of hatchery release groups and demographics to determine if management objectives are being met. The effectiveness of different rearing and release strategies are also evaluated to improve hatchery operations. Fish passage at the hatcheries continues to be evaluated and escapement and passage goals are developed based on habitat carrying capacity, stock-recruitment models, and ecosystem impacts. Finally as a part of the hatchery reform principles and the greater USFWS mission, we assess potential impacts of hatchery operations on native fish stocks to avoid or minimize negative interactions and conserve native fish populations.

Species benefitted: Steelhead and Chinook, Coho, and Chum Salmon.

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)

Tsoo-Yess River Coho Salmon Fry Plant Study

Our goal for the Tsoo-Yess River is to increase adult Coho Salmon returns by fully utilizing river productivity through a combination of juvenile production from natural spawning and hatchery supplementation. In the past, river productivity was not a primary concern for the hatchery program because smolts (age-1) were released directly from the hatchery and migrated out of the system within a few days. However, high temperatures and low flows at the hatchery during summer rearing months no longer allow for a successful smolt program. As an alternative, managers decided to release presmolts (age-0) during the spring in the upper watershed where temperatures and flow are suitable for summer rearing. The first step to determine the feasibility of this approach is understanding the river carrying capacity. Exceeding carrying capacity may cause streams with naturally spawning populations to produce fewer adult returns while presmolt releases may prove beneficial in systems where few adults return and natural production is below carrying capacity. Our research will guide Coho Salmon stocking decisions using a combination of carrying capacity modelling and empirical studies on distribution, abundance, growth, and survival.

Partners: Makah National Fish Hatchery, Makah Tribe

Fishery Management Assistance

Marking Trailer (Photo: USFWS)The Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office is involved in a number of fishery management forums, including the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC). The PSC is an organization that facilitates implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. It does this through research and regular meetings between national, provincial/state, First Nation, and U.S. tribal delegates to manage commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries in both countries. WWFWCO participates on a number of PSC technical committees tasked with evaluating hatchery marking and tagging programs and fishery impacts on salmon stocks of concern. Much of the work we do is focused on using coded-wire-tag data to assess stock status and fishery impacts. In support of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, our office also provides all release and recovery data for USFWS hatcheries in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to a publicly accessible database managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (RMIS). In a typical year, USFWS hatcheries in these four states recover over 20,000 tagged fish and release over 40 million fish.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and Steelhead.

Habitat Restoration

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)The Habitat Restoration and Conservation Program at the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office manages two aquatic restoration programs: the National Fish Passage Program and the Chehalis Fisheries Restoration Program. Both programs provide technical assistance to private landowners, non-profit organizations, Tribes, and local, state, and federal agencies. Our habitat restoration program is able to deliver services including: habitat evaluation, surveying, contracting, project implementation, and monitoring. Our programs aim to benefit the ecosystems we strive to conserve and the communities that interact and thrive around them.

The National Fish Passage Program works with partners to improve or remove barriers to fish movement and reconnect aquatic habitats. We also work on road decommissioning, barrier assessments, and prioritization of fish passage barrier removal projects.

The Chehalis Fisheries Restoration Program (CFRP) makes funding and technical assistance available for on-the-ground restoration of aquatic habitat, and population and habitat assessments in the Chehalis River watershed. The CFRP focuses on Pacific Salmon and trout as well as non-game species such as Pacific lamprey, freshwater mussels, and Olympic mudminnows to link habitat restoration efforts to the ‘bigger picture’ of holistic ecosystem function.

Species benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho salmon, Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Bull Trout, Steelhead, Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Olympic Mudminnow, and Pacific Lamprey.

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)

Lost Creek Fish Passage Restoration

In 2018 our office provided National Fish Passage Program funding to Trout Unlimited for the Lost Creek Barrier Removal project which removed a 33% passable aquatic organism passage (AOP) barrier culvert and replaced it with a bridge that allowed 100% AOP and mitigated for climate change impacts. The project was located on Lost Creek, a major contributing tributary to Stillman Creek in the South Fork Chehalis River Sub-Basin. Completing this project allowed unimpeded access to 2.5 miles of habitat upstream from the project site. This project ensured that salmonids at all life stages along with other aquatic species will see the benefits of investments upstream. Once the next fish passage barrier upstream is completed (currently under design by Lewis County and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) the net habitat gain for completing this project is approximately 5 miles. Trout Unlimited also received funding from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to complete this project. Trout Unlimited coordinated with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the design and engineering of the project.

Partners: Trout Unlimited, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Private Landowner

Population Assessment

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)The population assessment group at the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office conducts studies of the biology and conservation status of numerous species of fish and aquatic organisms native to Western Washington. The objectives of these projects vary widely from gathering basic biological information on under-studied species, to helping to map/update the distribution of USFWS priority species, to using multiple tools (e.g., PIT tags, radiotelemetry, microchemical analysis) to determine complex life history patterns of migratory fishes. Many of the species that this work focuses on are listed as either threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. WWFWCO staff conduct these studies across a diversity of habitats ranging from large urban lakes in the Seattle metro area to pristine backcountry rivers. All of this work is conducted in close cooperation with other Federal, State, Tribal, local-government, university, and non-governmental partners. A selection of recent projects are found below.

Species Benefitted: Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Steelhead, Bull Trout, Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Pacific Lamprey, Olympic Mudminnow, Freshwater Mussels, and various Sculpin Species.

Olympic mudminnow (Photo: USFWS)

Juvenile Chinook - Urban Lake Nearshore Studies

Puget Sound Chinook salmon are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Determining their habitat requirements and the important characteristics of these habitats that affect growth and survival are important components of recovery efforts. The nearshore areas of urban lakes such as Lake Washington are important rearing areas for juvenile Chinook salmon because they provide areas of abundant forage combined with reduced predation risk. Since 2001 our office has been working with several partners to understand the habitat requirements of juvenile Chinook salmon in nearshore areas. Recent efforts have focused on: 1) The effect of artificial nighttime lighting on juvenile Chinook behavior; 2) Determining the extent to which juveniles utilize the small lake tributaries for rearing; and 3) Monitoring the response to recent habitat restoration projects. Results have been used to assist various local, county, and state agencies with their shoreline management activities.

Partners: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife;

Elwha River weir (Photo: USFWS)

Elwha River Recovery Project – Monitoring Fish Response to Dam Removal

Two dams were erected on the Elwha River (Elwha and Glines Canyon) in the early 1900's to fuel development in the Port Angeles area of Washington State. Between the combined lack of fish passage and the loss of sediment and woody debris downstream, these dams significantly impacted the Elwha River Ecosystem for over a century. The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act (1992) paved the way to the eventual removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office staff both leads, and assist with a number of important monitoring projects in the Elwha River Ecosystem. These projects provide recovery managers with information which enables them to make more informed management decisions throughout the recovery process (“adaptive management”). These projects include: radio telemetry tracking to assess the movements and distribution of recolonizing fish within the basin; population estimates of adult Chinook salmon and steelhead using SONAR technology; assessing the migratory and life history patterns of bull trout to determine if they are once again migrating to the marine environment; and monitoring fine sediment impacts on spawning habitat following dam removal. Our staff also continues to assists tribal, state, and federal partners by providing logistical and evaluative feedback for monitoring projects and proposed management decisions.

Partners: Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Olympic National Park; U.S. Geological Survey; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Environmental Protection Agency

Olympic mudminnow (Photo: USFWS)

Olympic Mudminnow - Western Washington Wetlands Survivor

The Olympic mudminnow is a small fish that only occurs in western Washington. Olympic mudminnow live in marshes and wetlands with a muddy bottom and abundant aquatic vegetation. Typically they do not occur where there are large, predatory fishes, such as largemouth bass. They eat fish larvae, eggs, and small invertebrates, and have a remarkable tolerance of low oxygen levels. The Olympic mudminnow may be an indicator species to monitor the potential impact of climate change on wetlands and fish in western Washington.

The objective of this study is to identify the population structure of Olympic mudminnow. Understanding how closely related Olympic mudminnow are in different wetlands located in north Puget Sound, south Puget Sound, the Chehalis River watershed, and coastal Washington will inform how to design a strategy for conserving this endemic fish species.


Partners: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Abernathy Technology Center

Last updated: August 25, 2020
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