The Northwest’s iconic salmon have faced many challenges. Starting in the 1800s, overfishing and canneries, mining, agriculture, and loss of habitat from logging decimated salmon numbers. In the mid-1800s, the Northwest Fish Commissioner at the time, Spencer Baird, predicted the demise of the salmon based on these factors.
In the mid-1900s, urban growth combined with a major era of dam construction on the Columbia, and later, Snake rivers contributed to dwindling salmon numbers and pushed some stocks near extinction. The dams helped bring the nation out of the Depression, brought light and prosperity to the Northwest’s rural communities and powered the aluminum, plane and war ship production that helped the United States win World War Two. However, the salmon and tribal cultures in particular paid a high price.
The Present and the Future
The last decade has produced strong—at times even record-setting—salmon returns. It has also seen salmon runs trend downward in the later part of the decade due to poor ocean conditions. However, with changes in how the dams are operated, installation of new technologies at the dams to facilitate fish passage, improvements in hatchery practices, and major habitat restoration, they have been able to stay resilient.
Collaboration among federal and state agency leaders, tribes, and other river users has helped boost the number of salmon that are successfully navigating past the dams on their journey downriver to the ocean, and on their return trip back to their native Northwest rivers and streams. Northwest citizens also are doing their part, investing hundreds of millions of dollars every year through their utility bills that goes directly towards salmon recovery.
By the Numbers: Adult Salmon Set Records in the Last Decade