Coho Pre-Spawn Mortality Assessment Phase III


Pre-spawning mortality (PSM) and high egg retention (HER) are an emerging toxics issue impacting Puget Sound watersheds. Where it occurs, adult salmon returning to freshwater die before they are able to spawn completely. The cause of PSM and HER was recently identified as toxic road runoff associated with chemicals leaching out of automobile ‘tire dust’ which wears off tires during the normal wear and tear of driving.

Wild Fish Conservancy completed weekly spawning surveys in five West Sound watersheds in Kitsap and Peirce Counties which represent a range in road density and stormwater inputs. The surveys coincided with the fall coho runs of 10 or more individuals annually.

During the course of the survey, the riparian area was carefully inspected for signs of carcasses dragged to shore by animals such as otter, dog, raccoon, bear, opossum and coyote. Crews were also vigilant for the wafting odor of a rotting carcass, prompting a heightened search in those areas.

Spawning success was determined by examining female carcass gonads. The eggs of females are contained within two separate skeins within the body cavity. If these skeins appeared equal in size, full, firm, and intact, the fish was considered un-spawned. If eggs were retained by the fish, they were counted. When counting was impractical, the volume of eggs retained was measured in a beaker, and the diameter of five randomly chosen eggs was measured to estimate the average egg diameter. With these two values the estimated number of eggs in the fish could be calculated. If the eggs retained were 100% the fish exhibited PSM and if the fish retained 10-99% of their eggs they exhibited HER. Neither the spawning success of males or spawning success of significantly scavenged fish were  included in analysis  because they were either too difficult or too subjective.

Start Date
Kitsap and Pierce County, Clear, Burley, Minter, McCormick and Rocky Creeks
Project Type
Completion Date
Spawning Survey

Goals & Objectives

Identifying and prioritizing locations where pre-spawn mortality occurs allows us to prioritize locations where improving stormwater infrastructure will prevent continual damage to biota in streams.


Primary Habitats Impacted By Project:
Managing Agency/ Organization:
Riparian Stream Channel, Urban Stream Channel
Wild Fish Conservancy
Project Contact:
Budget or Project Cost:
Jamie Glasgow
Funding Sources:
Washington Department of Ecology, Puget Sound NEP, Stormwater Initiative