Species Management Plan
An icon of the Pacific Northwest, wild steelhead have provided important cultural and economic benefits
throughout the region's history. To help conserve and restore this important resource, the Washington Fish and
Wildlife Commission adopted a Statewide Steelhead Management Plan that provides a framework for rebuilding
wild steelhead runs throughout the state.
The statewide plan, approved in March 2008, is designed to guide state fish managers as they work with
tribal co-managers and local fish-recovery groups to develop management strategies for steelhead populations
in seven specific areas of the state. One of those areas is the Puget Sound region, where NOAA Fisheries
listed 44 stocks for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2007.
For more information >>
Steelhead (Rainbow Trout)
Other names: Steelhead trout, Sea-run Rainbow Trout
Average size: 8-11 lbs, up to 40 lbs
Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species; rainbow trout live in freshwater only and
Steelhead are anadromous, or live most of their lives in saltwater and return to freshwater
to spawn. Unlike most salmon, Steelhead can survive spawning and can spawn
in multiple years.
Steelhead spawn in the spring. They generally prefer fast water in small-to-large mainstem rivers
and medium-to-large tributaries. In streams with steep gradient and large substrate, they spawn
between these steep areas where the water is flatter and the substrate is small enough
to dig into. The steeper areas then make excellent rearing habitats for juveniles.
Like chinook, steelhead have two runs, a summer run and a winter run. Most summer runs are east of the
Cascades, and enter streams in summer to reach the spawning grounds by the following spring. A few
western Washington rivers also have established runs of summer steelhead. Winter runs spawn closer
to the ocean and require less travel time.
Steelhead fry emerge from the gravel in summer and generally rear for two or three years in
freshwater; occasionally one or four years depending on the productivity of the stream. Streams
high in the mountains and those in northern climates are generally less productive. Hatchery
Steelhead grow faster and smolt at one year of age..
Fry use areas of fast water and large substrate for rearing. They wait in eddies behind large
rocks and allow the river to bring them food in the form of insects, salmon eggs, and
Alevin - The lifestage of a salmonid between egg and fry. An alevin looks like a
fish with a huge pot belly, which is the remaining egg sac. Alevin remain protected in
the gravel riverbed, obtaining nutrition from the egg sac until they are large enough to
fend for themselves in the stream.
Anadromous - Fish that live part or the majority of their lives in saltwater,
but return to freshwater to spawn.
Emergence - The act of salmon fry leaving the gravel nest.
Fry - A juvenile salmonid that has absorbed its egg sac and is rearing in the stream;
the stage of development between an alevin and a parr.
Kype - The hooked jaw many male salmon develop during spawning.
Parr - Also known as fingerling. A large juvenile salmonid, one between a
fry and a smolt.
Smolt - A juvenile salmonid which has reared in-stream and is preparing
to enter the ocean. Smolts exchange the spotted camouflage of the stream for the chrome
of the ocean.
Substrate - The material which comprises a stream bottom.