Salmonids in California's Central Coast Region: Salmon, Trout, and Steelhead

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An environmental summary created by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.


Salmon, trout, and steelhead are all members of the taxonomic family Salmonidae or Salmonids (plural noun). Many species of salmonids are strictly anadromous, however, there are species which do not express an anadromous life history. Furthermore, sibling rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss) which come from the same parents can exhibit different life histories where one shows anadromy and the other remains in the stream as a resident trout. The California Central Coast (CCC) Region posses three species of salmonids: rainbow trout, Coho salmon, and Chinook Salmon. Only rainbow trout and Coho salmon have documented spawning areas in the California Central Coast. While they are known to reproduce in similar habitats, only a limited number of coastal watersheds in the region still support both species.[1] Chinook Salmon have been caught and documented within the Monterey Bay and stocked by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife however there are currently no known sustained populations.

Rainbow Trout & Steelhead

Central California Coast Steelhead DPS
South-Central California Coast Steelhead DPS
Southern California Steelhead DPS

Steelhead found in the CCC region are divided into three Distinct Population Segments (DPS): Central California Coast Steelhead[2] (STCCC), South-Central California Coast steelhead [3] (STSCC), and Southern California Coast Steelhead [4](STSCA). South-Central steelhead are the most prominent DPS here, with their biogeographical range spanning from Santa Cruz to a few coastal streams just south of San Luis Obispo (i.e. Pismo and Arroyo Grande Creek). Central California Coast steelhead inhabit streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains and regions further north into Marin and Sonoma County. Because their range overlaps with the Coho salmon populations in the region, there are seven streams in Santa Cruz County where both species are regularly observed to spawn in during their respective migration periods.

Conservation and Management

There are currently two steelhead recovery plans within the Monterey Bay Region the South-Central California Coast and Central California Coast Recovery Plans. The South Central California Steelhead Recovery Plan was published in 2013, while the California Coast Steelhead Recovery Plan was released in 2016. The goals of these recovery programs are to eventually remove these steelhead DPS off the endangered and threatened species list because of their successful recovery. A successful recovery depends on having self sustaining populations as well as restored spawning habitat.

Protection Status of Steelhead Distinct Population Segments (DPS)
DPS CESA Status ESA Status
Central California Coast Steelhead (STCCC) [2] NONE Threatened [5]
South-Central California Coast Steelhead (STSCC) [3] NONE Threatened [5]
Southern California Coast Steelhead (STSCA) [4] NONE Endangered [5]

Coho Salmon

Extant populations of Coho salmon in the CCC region are found in coastal streams of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.[6] Originally listed as threatened on the ESA in 1996, the Central California Coast Coho Salmon (COCCC) DPS protection status was reclassified to endangered in 2005.[5] At this time they were also listed as endangered in the California Endangered Species Act in a join effort to preserve these populations from further decline.[7] The COCCC DPS is the only extant population segment of Coho salmon in the CCC Region.[5]

Conservation and Management

The Recovery Plan for the Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Central California Coast Coho Salmon was completed in 2012 to define the current status of the COCCC DPS and present strategies for their long-term conservation in the face of climate change and anthropogenic effects.[8]

DPS Salmonid Populations in the CCC Region

Coho Salmon and Steelhead Populations in California's Central Coast Hydrologic Region [8][2][3][4]
Hydrological Feature COCCC STCCC STSCC STSCA
Gazos Creek X X
Waddell Creek X X
Scott Creek X X
San Vicente Creek X X
Laguna Creek X
San Lorenzo River X X
Soquel Creek X X
Aptos Creek X X
Pajaro River X
Salinas River X
Carmel River X
San Jose Creek X
Garrapata Creek X
Rocky Creek X
Bixby Creek X
Little Sur River X
Big Sur River X
Big Creek X
Limekiln Creek X
Prewitt Creek X
Willow Creek X
Salmon Creek X
San Carpoforo Creek X
Arroyo de la Cruz X
Little Pico Creek X
Pico Creek X
San Simeon Creek X
Santa Rosa Creek X
Villa Creek X
Cayuctos Creek X
Toro Creek X
Old Creek X
Morro Creek X
Morro Bay Complex X
San Luis Obispo, Pismo, and Arroyo Grande Creek X
Jalama Creek X
Santa Anita Creek X
Gaviota Creek X
Arroyo Hondo X
Tecolote Canyon X
Goleta Slough Complex X
Mission Creek X
Montecito Creek X
Carpinteria Creek X
Rincon Creek X


  1. Critical Habitat-Salmon and Steelhead (all West Coast). 2019. NOAA Fisheries. [accessed 2020 Apr 8]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Final Coastal Multispecies Recovery Plan for the California Coastal Chinook Salmon, Northern California Steelhead and Central California Coast Steelhead. 2016. National Marine Fisheries Service.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 South-Central California Coast Steelhead Recovery Plan. 2013. National Marine Fisheries Service
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan Summary. 2012. National Marine Fisheries Service.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Federal Endangered Species Act. 1973. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  6. Critical Habitat-Salmon and Steelhead (all West Coast). 2019. NOAA Fisheries. [accessed 2020 Apr 8]
  7. Listing of Endangered Species, California Endangered Species Act. 1970. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Recovery Plan for the Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Central California Coast Coho Salmon. 2012. NOAA Fisheries. Vol.1.


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