Southern Steelhead Recovery


Trout Unlimited's South Coast chapter, based in Orange County, California, has been working to bring back the southern steelhead to coastal streams south of Los Angeles for two decades.  The Southern California Coastal Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of steelhead was listed as Endangered (imminent threat of extinction) under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1997.  Prior to World War II, as many as 30,000 steelhead returned annually to coastal streams south of Point Conception to the Mexican border, the southernmost limit of the steelhead range on the West Coast of North America.  Today, as few as 500 adult steelhead may return in this region, in a "good" year, and the southern steelhead is one of the rarest salmonids in North America.

TU's goals are to restore critical steelhead habitat and to recover southern steelhead populations by fully implementing the recently-adopted federal Recovery Plan for this species, and by educating the public about southern steelhead and their place in the unique natural history of southern California.  Ultimately, we intend to bring back the southern steelhead sufficiently to downgrade its ESA listing to Threatened, then to achieve its being delisted altogether, so that within a generation we will once again be able to fish for this iconic species in its native range.


Work with partners in the Southern Steelhead Coalition to gain funding for projects that implement key goals and objectives of the southern steelhead Recovery Plan.

Reconnect Core 1 priority habitat in Trabuco and San Juan Creeks and restore fish passage to critical stream reaches.  Restore historic spawning and rearing habitat higher in these watersheds.

Advocate for "fish-friendly" development and land use in the coastal zone in southern Orange County and San Diego County.  Protect the estuary of San Mateo Creek from impacts associated with proposed highway construction.

Expand and improve public awareness of southern steelhead and the natural history of this region of California, to build a groundswell of support for southern steelhead recovery.


In 2006, TU's South Coast chapter advocated for funding and implementation of the landmark San Juan Watershed Study, which established the first baseline data on southern steelhead habitat in Trabuco and San Juan Creeks.

TU's South Coast chapter, working with partners in the Southern Steelhead Coalition, has secured over $2 million in funding for southern steelhead restoration projects, including chapter-led projects on Trabuco and San Juan creeks.

In 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service released the Recovery Plan for southern steelhead.  This plan reflects substantial input from TU and other members of the Southern Steelhead Coalition.

In 2009, TU achieved a major victory for southern steelhead when it helped convince the California Coastal Commission to deny a permit for construction of a new, pay-to-drive highway (the "Toll Road") that would have impacted the lagoon of San Mateo Creek.  Again in 2013, TU's South Coast chapter testified before a permitting agency, the San Diego Water Resources Quality Control Board, against issuing a discharge permit for a construction of a segment of the Toll Road until the environmental analysis has shown that it is the most "fish-friendly" alternative; the Water Board subsequently denied the discharge permit.

Staff Contact

Sam Davidson
California Communications Director

Author of this Page

Sam Davidson
California Communications Director

Orange County. San Mateo Creek. San Juan Creek. Trabuco Creek.


Steelhead Trout

Climate Change
Invasive Species
Roads + Development

Add Content