Yelloweye rockfish hovers near boulders.
The diverse and abundant fish fauna in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary are significant
commercial and recreational resources. The same environmental factors that determine distribution,
abundance, and species composition of other living resources of the area also affect fish communities.
The diverse habitats of Washington's outer coast each claim their own characteristic communities
Flounder's camouflage blends in with the seafloor.
Fish of the nearshore sublittoral habitat show the greatest diversity and include many commercially
important species. Salmon are “anadromous.” That means they spend most of their life in salt water
but return to fresh water to spawn at maturity. Seven species of Pacific salmon occur along the
outer coast of Washington: chinook, sockeye, pink, chum, and coho, along with sea-run cutthroat
trout and steelhead, also inhabit offshore waters. Other species include albacore tuna, Pacific
halibut, flounder (starry and arrowtooth), sole (petrale, Dover, English), numerous species of
rockfish, Pacific cod, Pacific hake, lingcod, sablefish, thresher shark, Pacific herring, northern
anchovy, jack mackerel, pollock, spiny dogfish, green and white sturgeon.
Fishes associated with sandy intertidal areas include starry flounder, staghorn sculpin, sand lance,
sand sole, redtail surfperch, and sanddab. Surf smelt spawn at high tide on sandy beaches where surf
action covers and aerates the eggs.
Vermillion rockfish, one of a huge variety of rockfish in the sanctuary.
Many of the finfish found in shallow rocky reefs are also common in kelp beds. Kelp forests increase
the available habitat for pelagic and bottomfish species, and offer protection to juvenile fish.
The numerous species of rockfish are the dominant fish. Other common species include lingcod, kelp
greenling, cabezon, kelp perch, wolf eel, and red Irish lord.
The wolf eel is one of the strangest looking fish you may encounter here.
The rocky intertidal habitat is characterized by a rather small and specialized group of fish
adapted for life in tidepools and wash areas. These fishes include tidepool sculpin, wolf eel,
juvenile lingcod and greenling, gunnels, eelpouts, pricklebacks, cockcombs, and warbonnets.
Salmon and groundfish are the most economically significant species in the sanctuary. The region is
not only important for those salmon that spawn in streams on the Olympic Peninsula adjacent to the
sanctuary, but includes the migration corridors of both juvenile and adult salmonids from California,
Oregon, and British Columbia as well.
Lingcod swims through metridium anemones.
Offshore areas are the most important areas for commercial harvests of groundfish. More than two
thirds of annual 1987-88 outer coast harvests came from these areas for the following species:
Pacific ocean perch, lingcod, English sole, Dover sole, Pacific cod, and sablefish. It is important
to note, however, that four of the top ten fishes commercially harvested along the outer coast of
Washington (chinook, coho, and chum salmon, and lingcod) are either estuarine-associated (i.e., they
use estuaries during some time in their lives) or estuarine-dependent (i.e., they require estuaries
to complete their life cycles). Additionally, the top four recreational species for Washington
(chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and lingcod) all use estuaries as juveniles.
Contact for page content: Jacqueline Laverdure