Steelhead Trout

Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) as seen in our Oregon Coast exhibit.

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a species that lives in Oregon coastal waters. It is included here as part of the Aquarium's broad mission to educate about the entirety of the Oregon coastline.

Steelhead Trout trout have a distinctive look with speckled olive-green bodies, silver bellies and a pink or red stripe which runs along its sides. Adult specimens can grow up to 55 lbs (25 kg) and 45 inches (120 cm) in length. Their size and taste makes them a desirable species for both commercial and recreational fishermen. In fact, trout have become such a popular food with people that they’ve been introduced to over forty-five different countries. 

In the wild, trout are aggressive predators. Their diets may include a variety of insects, eggs, invertebrates and other fish. 

Like salmon, these fish are anadromous, which means they move between fresh and salt water as part of their breeding cycle. Females will lay large numbers of eggs in a shallow nest known as a “redd” in a freshwater stream. The eggs will hatch about a month later and when the young trout are big enough, they’ll migrate downstream and often into the Pacific. 

The fish may be referred to as “Steelhead Trout” or “Rainbow Trout,” although these are the same species. There are two subspecies of this fish in Oregon. 

Range and Habitat 

Steelhead Trout can be found all along the Pacific Coast of North America and west to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. Their habitat will change according to migration and breeding patterns. Some Oregon trout will have set migration routes while others will live out their lives entirely in fresh water. Those who venture out to sea will stay there for one to three years before returning to their natal streams to spawn. Unlike salmon, which have a similar behavior, most Steelhead Trout don’t die after reproducing. If the trout survive both predators and anglers, they may live to repeat this cycle for over ten years. 

Conservation Status 

Threatened over much of their range in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. Many of the techniques used to restore salmon populations are also being employed for trout. These include captive-rearing in fisheries, removing man-made obstructions to their natural migration routes and improving water quality. Oregon coastal trout were listed as a Species of Concern in 2004.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Game.

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