Fish Studies

​​The City of Bellingham Natural Resources Division conducts a number of monitoring studies to better understand how fish utilize our riparian and nearshore habitats.

Spawner Surveys

Adult salmon and sea-run trout return from the ocean to spawn in freshwater streams. The City has conducted surveys in Squalicum Creek, Whatcom Creek and Padden Creek to document how these spawning fish use our City streams. Most salmon return to spawn in Bellingham streams in the fall, while spawning steelhead and cutthroat trout have been observed all the way through early September.

When conducting a spawner survey, surveyors walk upstream and record the number and species of live and dead fish as well as the location of redds (fish nests). The surveys are conducted once every 7-10 days throughout the entire spawning season (September – June). The City currently conducts spawner surveys every other year.

Padden Creek Spawner Survey Summaries

Squalicum Creek Spawner Survey Summaries

Whatcom Creek Spawner Survey Summaries

*The 2019-2020 spawner survey season was cut short due to COVID-19. Surveyors collected information through March 2020. Surveyors recorded fewer chum in Bellingham streams during the 2019-2020 season. This trend was seen across the Puget Sound. Learn more here.

Smolt Traps

In spring, out-migrating juvenile fish are monitored using smolt traps. A “smolt” is one of the life stages of a juvenile salmonid. This life stage occurs when the juvenile fish begins its migration from freshwater to the estuary, gradually adjusting to life in saltwater. Different species spend different amounts of time rearing in freshwater. For example, Coho salmon spend one to two years rearing in freshwater. They reach about 50-100 mm in size before they smolt and begin migration to the estuary. Smolt traps are checked multiple times each day so that fish can be identified and measured before being released back into the stream to continue their journey out to sea.

Forage Fish

Forage fish are an important food source for salmon. Since June 2017, the City and its Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) crews have conducted monthly monitoring studies at Little Squalicum beach and Waypoint Park to better understand where forage fish spawn. These monitoring studies reveal that surf smelt – a type of forage fish – continue to use these Bellingham beaches for spawning.

Nearshore Juvenile Chinook Study 

This project was a collaboration between the City of Bellingham, the Skagit River System Cooperative (on behalf of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community), and the Lummi Nation. The study investigated the role of estuarine and nearshore marine habitats on Nooksack early Chinook productivity and abundance. The study compiled data on juvenile salmon collected by Lummi Natural Resources from 2003 through 2015 and additional data collected through this study in 2014 and 2015.