Chinook Salmon - Protected
About the Species
Chinook salmon are anadromous fish, which means they can live in both fresh and saltwater. Chinook salmon have a relatively complex life history that includes spawning and juvenile rearing in rivers followed by migrating to saltwater to feed, grow, and mature before returning to freshwater to spawn. They are vulnerable to many stressors and threats including blocked access to spawning grounds and habitat degradation caused by dams and culverts. Two species of chinook salmon are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, seven species are listed as threatened under the ESA, and one species is a candidate for listing under the ESA.
The Sacramento River Winter-run Chinook is one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight.
NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving and protecting chinook salmon. Our scientists and partners use a variety of innovative techniques to study, learn more about, and protect this species. Learn more about chinook salmon.
- Sacramento River winter-run
- Upper Columbia River spring-run
- California coastal
- Central Valley spring-run
- Lower Columbia River
- Puget Sound
- Snake River fall-run
- Snake River spring/summer-run
- Upper Willamette River
- Upper Klamath-Trinity River
ESA Experimental Population
- Central Valley spring-run in the San Joaquin River XN
- Upper Columbia River spring-run in the Okanogan River subbasin XN
In the Spotlight
Sacramento River Winter-Run Chinook
The Sacramento River winter-run evolutionarily significant unit (called an "ESU") of Chinook salmon is one of NOAA Fisheries’ Species in the Spotlight. This initiative is a concerted, agency-wide effort to spotlight and save the most highly at-risk marine species.
Chinook salmon are an iconic part of California’s natural heritage that must be preserved in order to ensure the economic and recreational wellbeing of future generations. Millions of wild salmon once returned to spawn in the foothills and mountains of California’s Central Valley. Streams fed by rainfall, snowmelt, and cold water springs encircled the valley, fostering a diversity and abundance of Chinook salmon. The endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon are particularly important among California’s salmon runs because they exhibit a life-history strategy found nowhere else on the West Coast. These Chinook salmon are unique in that they spawn during the summer months when air temperatures usually approach their warmest.
As a result, winter-run Chinook salmon require stream reaches with cold water sources that will protect their incubating eggs from the warm ambient conditions. Because of this need for cold water during the summer, winter-run Chinook salmon historically occurred only in rivers and creeks fed by cold water springs, such as the Little Sacramento, McCloud, and Pit rivers, and Battle Creek.
The construction of Shasta and Keswick dams eliminated access to the Little Sacramento, McCloud, and Pit rivers, effectively causing the extirpation of the winter-run Chinook salmon populations that spawned and reared there. The fish from these different populations were forced to mix and spawn as one population downstream of Keswick Dam on the Sacramento River. The construction and operation of hydropower facilities in Battle Creek made the creek inhospitable to winter-run Chinook salmon, and that population also was extirpated.
The one remaining winter-run Chinook salmon population has persisted in large part due to agency-managed cold water releases from Shasta Reservoir during the summer and artificial propagation from Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery’s winter-run Chinook salmon conservation program. Thus, winter-run Chinook salmon are dependent on sufficient cold water storage in Shasta Reservoir, and it has long been recognized that a prolonged drought could have devastating impacts, possibly leading to the species’ extinction.
Currently, Shasta and Keswick dams block winter-run Chinook salmon from nearly all of their historical spawning habitat. The spawning habitat that is accessible is subject to water temperatures that are too warm to support egg and fry survival, particularly during the current California drought, which is one of the most severe on record. In addition to lost and degraded spawning habitat, 98 percent of riparian and floodplain habitat along the Sacramento River is no longer available to support juvenile rearing. Other threats to winter-run Chinook salmon include water withdrawals, predation by non-native species, lack of quality rearing habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and commercial and recreational fisheries.
In 2014, NOAA Fisheries adopted a plan to recover Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, as well as Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and Central Valley steelhead.
A recovery plan is one of the most important tools in the species recovery process. It provides a sound scientific foundation and guides decision-making for partners implementing the plan and its actions. This recovery plan sets goals and prioritizes actions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds, laying out steps to achieve the species’ recovery. It provides a framework for targeting conservation efforts and modifying actions based on new science and changing circumstances.
Recovery plans provide guidance and are voluntary; they do not have the force of law. As such, the success of recovery efforts ultimately depends on partnerships and cooperation to ensure the right actions are implemented to advance long-term species’ recovery.
State and federal agencies, public organizations, non-profit groups and others in California’s Central Valley have formed strong partnerships to save Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon. Efforts to protect winter-run Chinook salmon include restoring habitat, utilizing conservation hatchery programs, closely monitoring the population, and carefully managing scarce cold water. Additional key actions needed to safe guard winter-run Chinook salmon from further declines include:
- Improving management of Shasta Reservoir’s storage in order to provide cold water for spawning adults, eggs, and fry, stable summer flows to avoid de-watering redds, and winter/spring pulse flows to improve smolt survival through the delta.
- Completing the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project and reintroducing winter-run Chinook salmon to the restored habitat.
- Reintroducing winter-run Chinook salmon into the McCloud River.
- Improving Yolo Bypass fish habitat and passage so juveniles can more frequently utilize the bypass for rearing and adults can freely pass from the bypass back to the Sacramento River.
- Managing winter and early spring delta conditions for improved juvenile survival.
- Conducting landscape-scale restoration throughout the delta to improve the ecosystem’s health and support native species.
- Expanding the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery’s facilities to support both the captive broodstock and conservation hatchery programs; and
- Evaluating alternative control rules used to limit incidental take of winter-run Chinook salmon in ocean fisheries.
As part of our strategy to prevent extinction, we are developing a 5-year plan of action for this species that builds on the recovery plan and details the focused efforts that are needed over the next 5 years. We will continue to engage vital partners in the public and private sectors in actions they can take to support this important effort.
ESA-Listed Snake River Basin Species
NOAA Fisheries has adopted three recovery plans for the four ESA-listed Snake River basin species: steelhead, spring/summer Chinook salmon, fall Chinook salmon and sockeye salmon. The Snake River Sockeye Recovery Plan was adopted in June 2015. The Snake River Fall Chinook Recovery Plan and Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon and Snake River Basin Steelhead Recovery Plans were adopted in November 2017.
It is our intent to optimize Recovery Plan implementation through stakeholder involvement to prioritize and implement recovery actions; particularly through NOAA Fisheries’ Snake River Coordination Group.
- Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan
- Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan
- Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon and Snake River Basin Steelhead Recovery Plan
Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers Chinook Salmon ESU
In 2017, the Karuk Tribe and Salmon River Restoration Council petitioned NOAA to list the Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers (UKTR) Chinook salmon ESU or, alternatively, create a new ESU to describe Klamath Spring Chinook salmon and list it as threatened or endangered under the ESA.
NOAA Fisheries reviewed the petition and determined that a status review of the Chinook salmon in the UKTR Basin should be conducted.