Best time to travel to Washington

Salmon Crossing the Road in Washington

Have you ever seen fish block traffic? Such phenomenon is not unusual in Washington

Best time: mid-to-late November

From time to time, wildlife crossings happen in the Evergreen State. However, the animals blocking traffic typically are not fish. The only exception is shimmering chum salmon. Every year around mid-to-late November, salmon traffic jams are seen in Mason County, southwest of Seattle.

After three to four years spent in the Pacific Ocean, salmon returns to their natal river to reproduce. The fish typically spawns in creeks of the Skokomish River. But due to heavy rains, the river swells, flooding the nearby roads, and cheats hundreds of salmon into going off course.

One of the sites that yearly experiences such scenes is Skokomish Valley Road, located only 5 mi (8 km) off the Skokomish River. The quiet road which typically sees an occasional car passing by is hardly recognizable during the salmon frenzy race upstream. Besides, you can occasionally behold salmon swimming across the US Highway 101 in Shelton or any flooded roadway in the area.

The spectacle might seem amusing at first sight, but not to salmon. The lucky fish will get back into the creek on the other side of the road, while most will be stranded. Some will flop to death, while others will become a feast for a passing raccoon or hawk. Hopefully, a way to help these salmon will eventually be found.

Practical info

What is the best time to witness salmon crossing the roads in Washington?

Salmon typically cross the roads in search of their spawning grounds in creeks that lie along the Skokomish River in mid-to-late November. This heavy rain leads to flooding in nearby areas, causing the river's water level to swell, which, unfortunately, causes some salmon to get off course and search for new paths to swim upstream. Show more

Which river attracts salmon that crosses the road?

The Skokomish River has fertile creeks that are attractive to salmon during the migration period. These creeks are rich in nutrients that the fish need to grow healthy, and they swim upstream to them every year to spawn. Heavy rain in mid-to-late November can cause flooding and cause some salmon to cross the roads mistakenly. Show more

Why do salmon end up crossing the roads instead of spawning in their creeks?

Heavy rainfall can cause the Skokomish River to flood, swells, and changes its water level, causing some salmon to be redirected. The salmon's sense of magnetism directs them to their spawning grounds, making them mistakenly cross roads to search for alternative routes, leading to them being stranded on the road's wrong side. Show more

What are the risks posed by road-crossing to salmon?

Salmon getting stranded, dying a slow death on the wrong side of the road, or being crushed to death by passing vehicles are some of the risks that come with road-crossing. Additionally, predators such as raccoons and hawks come to those areas to feed on the stranded fish, exposing them to additional danger. Show more

What can be done to help the stranded salmon?

One solution to help stranded salmon will be to build fish ladders, restore riverbanks, and construct suitable habitats. Although many try to help by putting them back in the water, the best solution is to ensure that the salmon follow the natural waterways to their breeding grounds and bypass existing obstructions to prevent such accidents from happening. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin