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Salish Sea

Marine Species at Risk


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Between 2008 and 2011, 23 new species were identified as threatened or of concern, representing the greatest increase since the list was first established in 2002.

Many marine species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates (insects, worms, crabs, clams, etc.) have experienced serious declines and are at risk or vulnerable to extinction.

These species depend on the Salish Sea marine ecosystem for all or parts of their life history, such as reproduction, migration, molting, foraging or over-wintering habitat. 

What's happening?

As of January 2011, 113 marine species and sub-species were formally listed as being at risk or vulnerable to extinction, including:

  • 56 birds.
  • 37 fish.
  • 15 mammals.
  • 3 invertebrates.
  • 2 reptiles.
  • Learn more about what's happening

    Four government jurisdictions have the responsibility for determining which marine species in the Salish Sea need formal protection to ensure survival - the Province of British Columbia, the State of Washington, the Canadian Federal Government, and the U.S. Federal Government

    Between 2008 and 2011, 23 new species were added to the list, including five fish species and 18 birds (see table below). This represents the largest increase in species of concern since the list was first established in 2002.

    Table: Marine Species Listed Between 2008 and 2011 (Gaydos and Brown, 2011)

    Family Species New Listing
    1. Pacific Sardine, Sardinops sagax
    Species at Risk Act (Canada) - Special Concern
    1. Chum Salmon, Oncorrhynchus keta, No distinct population segment (DPS)
    Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Candidate
    1. Coho Salmon, Oncorrhynchus kisutch, No specific DPS
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Pink Salmon, Oncorrhynchus gorbuscha
      No specific DPS
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Surf Smelt, Hypomesus pretiosus
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. American Kestrel, Megaceryle alcyon
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Band-tailed Pigeon, Patagioenas fasciata
    British Columbia (B.C.) Blue List and COSEWIC Special Concern
    1. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
    COSEWIC Special Concern
    1. Brant, Branta bermicla
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Clarke's Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii
    B.C. Red List and Washington State Candidate
    1. Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus
    COSEWIC Special Concern
    1. Green Heron, Bitprodes virescens
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Long-tailed duck, Clangula hyemalis
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Yellowbilled loon, Gavia adamsii
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Red Phalarope, Phalaropus fulicarius
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Roughlegged Hawk, Buteo lagopus
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Greater Scaup, Aythya marila
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Lesser Scaup, A. affinis
    COSEWIC Candidate
    1. Buller's Shearwater, Puffinus bulleri
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Flesh-footed Shearwater, P. carneipes
    B.C. Blue List
    1. Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus
    B.C. Blue List

Why is it important?

172 species of birds and 37 mammals use the Salish Sea marine ecosystem for some part of their life cycle.

Nearly 50% of these birds and 80% of the mammals depend on it for food or habitat, and many of those (30% of birds and 38% of mammals) are already listed as either threatened, endangered or are candidates for these designations.

Without stronger efforts to improve habitat, the population of these species will likely continue to decline and new species will be added to the list.

  • Learn more about why it's important

    Long term monitoring has shown population declines in nearly 40% of the most common marine bird species (including seabirds, sea ducks, and shorebirds) that overwinter in the Salish Sea. Certain species, such as the Western Grebe and surf scoter, have declined as much as 90%.

    The loss of marine birds and marine mammals near the top of the food chain is particularly worrisome. Levels of marine bird populations have been studied for many years to monitor impacts from pollution, detect changes in the availability of prey, and reflect impacts of changes in ocean patterns.

    The continued loss of these species points to declining ecosystem health that affects the economic, social and cultural well being of our communities. For example, wildlife observation (including whale and bird watching) has become one of the most significant economic activities in North America, generating millions of dollars in British Columbia and Washington State each year.

Why is it happening?

Peregrine falcon perched on a rocky cliff face
Many birds, like this Peregrine falcon, and other marine animals have experienced serious declines in the Salish Sea. Photo courtesy of Gordon Court.

Many factors can play a role in loss of biodiversity, including:

  • Sprawling population growth.
  • Overfishing.
  • Pollution.
  • Climate change.

Overfishing, for example, plays a leading role in the decline of vulnerable fish populations such as rockfish and invertebrate species such as Northern Abalone.

Declines in marine birds can be linked to changes in availability of food sources such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, and surf smelt. In turn, a key threat to these food sources is the loss of spawning habitat such as kelp and eelgrass beds which can be impacted by changes to the natural shoreline.

Derelict fishing gear (such as lost or abandoned fishing nets) also poses a threat to marine birds which can easily become entangled and drown.

What are we doing about it?

Governments are taking actions such as developing species recovery and management plans, establishing catch restrictions, and creating conservation areas to help recover and maintain declining marine species.

  • Learn more about what we're doing

    These are some examples of actions that governments are taking:

    • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works with partners to maintain healthy wildlife populations through a variety of planning, monitoring, recovery, and incentive programs. One such program is the recent release of a Rockfish Conservation Management Plan Exit designed to help restore and maintain abundance, distribution, diversity and long-term productivity of rockfish populations in Puget Sound.
    • The Puget Sound Partnership is working with other state, local, federal and tribal programs to protect and restore local habitats including shorelines and riparian areas, estuary wetlands, eelgrass and floodplain habitats.
    • British Columbia's Ministry of Environment developed a set of science-based tools and actions - called a Conservation Framework - for conserving species and ecosystems. A centerpiece of this framework is the BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer Exit which provides conservation information on approximately 6000 species and 600 ecological communities in British Columbia.
    • The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans has established Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) to protect rockfish from recreational and commercial fisheries. Likewise, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed its own Rockfish Conservation Management Plan to help restore and maintain abundance, distribution, diversity and long-term productivity of rockfish populations in Puget Sound.

Five things you can do to help

  1. Help preserve our remaining natural shorelines that provide essential habitat for marine species.
  2. Report derelict fishing gear so it can be safely removed to protect people and wildlife. Learn how to prevent your own gear from becoming lost. Visit the Northwest Straits Derelict Gear Program  Exit to learn more.
  3. Purchase sustainably-harvested seafood at your local supermarket or favorite restaurant.
  4. Use beneficial landscaping techniques such as rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs and permeable paving to help reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and reduce runoff into ditches and storm drains.
  5. Do your part to dispose of unused medicine and chemicals properly. Never dump into household toilets and sinks or outside where they can get into ditches or storm drains. See if your community has a household hazardous waste drop-off facility that will take your old or unused chemicals.

Learn more about this topic

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Scientific references

The following links exit the site Exit
  1. Gaydos, J. K. and N.A. Brown. 2011. Species of Concern within the Salish Sea: Changes from 2002 to 2011 (PDF) (12 pp, 243KB). Proceedings of the 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, October 25-27, 2011, Vancouver, BC.
  2. Gaydos, J.K. and S.F. Pearson. 2011. Birds and Mammals that Depend on the Salish Sea: A Compilation. Northwestern Naturalist 92:79-94. Bower, J.L. 2009. Changes in Marine Bird Abundance in the Salish Sea: 1975 to 2007. Marine Ornithology 37:9-17.
  3. Therriault, T.W, Hay, D.E and Schweigert, J.F. 2009. Biological overview and trends in pelagic forage fish abundance in the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia, British Columbia) (PDF) (6 pp, 325KB). Marine Ornithology 37: 3-8.
  4. Good, T.P, June, J.A, Etinier, M.A and Broadhurst, G. 2009. Ghosts of the Salish Sea: Threats to Marine Birds in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits from derelict fishing gear (PDF) (10 pp, 406KB). Marine Ornithology 37: 67-76.
  5. Williams, G.D Levin, P.S and Plasson, W.A. 2010. Rockfish in Puget Sound: An ecological history of exploitation. Marine Policy 34: 1010 - 1020.