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OR&R Scientists and Partners Initiate Major Salmon Injury Study at Portland Harbor Superfund Site

MAY 4, 2018 — In mid-April, OR&R scientists, in collaboration with multiple internal and external partners, completed the field component of a major study to help determine the impacts to Endangered Species Act-listed juvenile Chinook salmon from exposure to contaminants as they out-migrate through the Portland Harbor Superfund Site via the Willamette River. 

Bridge over a river.
Looking downriver (north) at the heart of the Superfund Site (approximately river mile 7). Image credit: Ken King, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Site extends from downtown Portland to the Willamette’s confluence with the Columbia River.

This work is part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) being conducted by the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council. The council includes five Indian tribes, the State of Oregon, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and NOAA. Juvenile salmon is a key species of interest for the damage assessment. Available scientific evidence indicates juvenile Chinook salmon within Portland Harbor have higher tissue levels of contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides and other compounds when compared to tissue levels from juvenile Chinook salmon collected upstream of the Superfund Site. Scientists are concerned that exposures to these compounds may be adversely affecting juvenile Chinook as they move through the system. The objectives of this study are, in particular, to update information on the extent to which wild, sub-yearling Willamette River juvenile Chinook stocks are being exposed to contaminants and whether these exposures are impairing growth. If so, the ability of these fish to survive as they enter the lower Columbia River Estuary may be compromised.

The fieldwork was conducted by a team of field biologists, toxicologists, injury assessment specialists, data managers, and field technicians representing a diverse suite of organizations from within and outside of NOAA, including for NOAA: the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Restoration Center, and Office of General Counsel for Natural Resources, and National Weather Service.  External partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit.  Generous access to the U.S. Coast Guard facility for a variety of staging efforts was particularly key to the success of the effort.

Ultimately the data resulting from this study will be carefully analyzed and interpreted in order to understand how these fish may be impacted by exposures to contaminants as they pass through the Superfund Site. An update will be provided when these findings are disseminated. 

For further information, contact Rob Neely at

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People pulling a seine net from the river.
Pulling a 100 ft. long beach seine net at Kelley Point Park, east bank looking upriver. From left to right: Megan Hilgart, NOAA Restoration Center (RC); Dr. Jessica Lundin, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC); Dr. Sarah Allen, NOAA OR&R; LT Adam Pfundt, NOAA Corps / RC; Ken King, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Sean Sol, NWFSC. Image credit: NOAA.
People in and around a small boat.
Heading out from base of operations at U.S. Coast Guard Station Portland to hit another site. From left to right: LT Adam Pfundt, NOAA Corps / Restoration Center (RC); Sean Sol, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC); Dr. Jessica Lundin, NWFSC; Dr. Sarah Allen, NOAA OR&R; Megan Hilgart, NOAA RC. Image credit: NOAA.
Last updated Jun. 14, 2019