Why Salmon Need Estuaries

More than 40 people gathered at Seven Devils Brewery in Coos Bay to hear NOAA Fisheries biologist Dan Bottom’s analysis of what we have learned about salmon resilience and response to wetland restoration from case studies in Oregon’s most heavily developed basin (Columbia River) and its most fully restored estu­ary (Salmon River). These projects demonstrate the importance of diversity in habitat and the need for restoration and enhancement efforts to support multiple life history patterns of Chinook and Coho salmon.

Understanding and managing for a diversity of life history patterns is essential. For example, research shows that some salmon rear near where they came out of the gravel, while others rear in estuaries or low gradient wetlands for a portion of their freshwater life history. Tidal marshes and other shallow estuarine habitats provide rich areas for salmon and other fry to feed and grow during these early stages of development. The ability to rear in diverse locations helps the salmon survive during stressor events like this past hot and dry summer. This can be called managing for a portfolio of life history patterns.

TWC’s recent restoration project at our Matson Creek Preserve on Coos Bay restored full salmon rearing habitat functionality with a portfolio of life history approach to over 9,000 ft of tributary on the historic main stem of Matson Creek. The restoration entailed the re-meandering and restoring of historical stream banks for natural sinuosity, reconnecting the stream bank to off and side channel habitat, replacing large woody debris in and along the restored tributary banks, encouraging pool development and re-establishing native riparian zone plant communities.

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