Estuaries and Salmon


Oregon’s Estuaries are Critical for Salmon and Coastal Communities

Oregon’s coast is home to 22 major estuaries: comprising some of our favorite bays, beaches, marshes, spits, and tidal creeks. Where Oregon’s forests and rivers meet the Pacific Ocean, these places are incredibly productive environmental powerhouses for salmon and shellfish, supporting coastal economies and communities.

Estuaries, and especially eelgrass – a plant found in bays and estuaries – are incredibly important habitats for salmon, steelhead, birds, Dungeness crab, oysters, and herring. Fueled by ocean nutrients, river runoff, and sunlight, healthy estuaries produce enough food to serve as an all-you-can-eat buffet for salmon.

But many of Oregon’s estuaries areas are under threat. Oregon has lost 58% of its tidal wetlands to developments like boat launches, bridges, and harbors. On top of that, a lot of remaining eelgrass habitat is substantially degraded by dredging, toxic runoff, logging upstream, and sea level rise.


Restoring Estuaries Provides Environmental and Community Benefits:

Restore Salmon

Restoring estuaries enhances their quality as feeding grounds for salmon, who spend time in these areas as they transition to and from the ocean’s saltwater environment. These habitats also provide important shelter for salmon to avoid predators, making them so important in sustaining healthy salmon fisheries that NOAA declared them Essential Fish Habitat in 1996.

Enhance Coastal Economies

Restoring estuaries provides local employment opportunities; sustains the ocean science economy related to research and education; and enhances outdoor recreation and water-based tourism sectors that depend on healthy natural resources and fisheries.

Oregonians have a new opportunity to help protect eelgrass and estuaries.

The State of Oregon is updating its estuary management plans, which were originally written forty years ago. These original estuary management plans tend to emphasize development and minimize environmental protections. They do not address climate change issues and were developed before species like Coho salmon were listed as endangered. They do not embrace habitat restoration as a tool nor address legacy impacts to the estuary. Essentially, at least 16 of these plans are in desperate need of updating.


Improve Water Quality

Restoring estuaries enhances their ability to absorb pollutants, filter and purify water, reduce the frequency of harmful algal blooms, and enhance drinking water for Coastal communities.

Protect Coastlines

Restoring estuaries are important buffers against coastal storms. They absorb waves and sea level changes, preventing sediments from washing away and providing storm and flood protection for the coastline.

Honor Tribes

Before being forcibly relocated to reservations, Oregon’s Coastal tribes historically lived in communities large and small near many estuaries along the Salmon (Nechesne), Siletz, Alsea, Siuslaw, Yachats, Rogue, and Umpqua rivers. These areas remain important for tribes to collect resources for food and ceremonial purposes, including salmon and roots .

Store Greenhouse Gases

Tidal forest wetlands and eelgrass sequester more carbon than many other coastal habitat types. Specifically, Oregon’s undisturbed wetlands and estuaries are some of the most carbon rich in the world and serve as greater carbon sinks than old growth and tropical forests.