“Long Live the Mighty Salmon”

Salmonids are special because they spawn in fresh water, spend most of their lives at sea, then migrate against strong currents back to river sources to reproduce.  The Coho, Chinook and Sockeye salmon, and the Steelhead trout are popular salmonidae species in the Pacific Northwest.  The images below depict the headwaters of the Washougal River where salmonids reproduce and spawn.

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Before modern development, it is estimated that 10 to 16 million salmonids returned each year to the Columbia River Basin from the Pacific Ocean.  Today, these salmon runs have declined about 90% to 1.5 million fish.  What’s the biggest culprit?  Hundreds of hydroelectric, irrigation and flood control dams built in the Columbia River Basin.  The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates that dams are responsible for 70-90% of human-induced salmon kills.

The video below depicts a salmon migrating upstream toward a dam. Excuse my remarks, I’m very excited to capture this fish on film!

Dams contribute to the decline in salmon population in a number of ways.  Dam turbines can kill or stun migrating salmon, stir up salmon eggs, and change the water temperature and turbidity needed for healthy salmon runs.  The photo on the left depicts the dam that our fishy friend filmed above had to pass.  The photo to the right depicts a fish that didn’t make it.

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One method to protect fish from dam danger, which is almost as old as the concept of the dam itself, is the construction of fish diversion ladders.  This article from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council discusses fish ladder pros and cons.  Also, various articles in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management analyze experimental fish ladders.  I hate to use non-original fish ladder photos from the Internet, but the Bonneville Dam fish ladder was closed when I tried to visit. 😦 I recently moved to the East Coast, so these photos will suffice.I: I’ve

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Salmon advocates such as Save Our Wild Salmon and native tribes argue that dam removal is a more effective method of salmonid population restoration.   A group of salmon advocates filed a lawsuit against the federal government (National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service III) arguing that the federal Salmon Plan, also known as the 2010 Biological Opinion for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it relied on “unidentified and uncertain habitat enhancement measures.”  In the summer of 2011, the Federal District Court of Oregon found that the Salmon Plan violated the ESA.  This means that the federal government must craft a new plan and analyze more alternatives, such as dam decommissioning. 

Ian O’Brien photographed the images below during our trip to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.  The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates that 75% of the salmonids in the Columbia Basin are raised in hatcheries.

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Trudy McDonald, my good friend and anthropology enthusiast, developed the PowerPoint  presentation linked below.  It explains the aboriginal system of catching and storing salmon, and how native tribes maintained optimal populations of salmon for future generations.  I also need to credit Trudy for the title of this post.

Historical Ecology Presentation Photo of Trudy at work.

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2 Responses to “Long Live the Mighty Salmon”

  1. Ian O. says:

    Great post!

  2. Amazing post… You write incredibly. So clean. Straight to the point. No riff-raff. Thank you so much for your work…. I know that this will help save the entire world one day. One reader at a time.

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