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STEELHEAD

DID YOU KNOW? Unlike salmon which die after spawning,steelhead may spawn several times.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Oncorhynchus mykiss, previously known as Salmo gairdneri.

COMMON NAMES: Kamchatka salmon trout, coastal rainbow trout, silvertrout, salmon trout, steelie, hardhead and ironhead.

DESCRIPTION: In the sea, bluish from above and silvery from below -- tends to be more greenish in freshwater. Small black spots on back and most fins. Up to 45 inches in length and 40 pounds in weight; although usually weighs less than 10 pounds.

LIFE CYCLE: Spawning in streams and rivers, steelhead rear in freshwater for 1 to 4 years before migrating downstream through estuaries to the open ocean. Unlike salmon, steelhead migrate individually rather than in schools. Steelhead spend 1 to 5 years at sea before returning to natal streams or rivers. At least two specific stocks of steelhead have developed; those that enter fresh water during fall, winter and early spring -- the winter run -- and those that enter in spring, summer and early fall -- the summer run. Steelhead do not always die after spawning, but will again migrate through estuaries to the ocean.

HABITAT AND ECOLOGY: Steelhead rely on streams, rivers, estuaries and marine habitat during their lifecycle. In freshwater and estuarine habitats, steelhead feed on small crustaceans, insects and small fishes. Eggs are laid in small and medium gravel and need good water flow (to supply oxygen) to survive. After emerging from the redd (nest) they remain in streams and rivers for 1 to 4 years before migrating through the estuaries to the ocean.

Because young steelhead spend a significant portion of their lives in rivers and streams, they are particularly susceptible to human induced changes to water quality and habitat threats. Poor timber and agricultural management practices can lead to siltation in streams, which may ruin spawning beds or smother the eggs. Additionally, in the Columbia River, migrating steelhead face the physical obstacles and high water temperatures resulting from dams, inadequate water flows in rivers and streams due to water diversions for irrigation, and the impoundment of water for power generation.

RANGE: Steelhead were originally found from northwestern Mexico to the Kuskokwim River in Alaska; however, now it is unusual to find steelhead south of Ventura River, California. Significant steelhead rivers in Oregon include the Rogue, Umpqua and Clackamas Rivers.

ECONOMIC VALUE: Steelhead is one of the top five sport fish in North America, and is caught primarily in streams and rivers. At the present time only Native Americans are allowed to fish for steelhead commercially in Washington or Oregon.


Revised 12/16/96