Salmon Spawn in Upper Columbia River First Time in Over 80 Years

December 19, 2020 at 5:07 pm

A dam has blocked salmon from the upper Columbia River for almost a century, but Native American tribes carried them back, and now they’re having babies!

The Grand Coulee Dam has kept salmon out of the upper portion of the Columbia River, in Washington State, since its construction in the 1930s.

Grand Coulee Dam

The nutritious fish were once a staple of the Native American diet in that region, but were sacrificed to provide electricity and agricultural irrigation for the growing population and industries.

In August of 2019, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation caught 100 fish from the lower portion of the river and released them in the upper part, to see if they would breed, and they did!

This fall, the tribes have found 36 salmon nests within a 6-mile stretch of where the adults were released.

“Fish have a way of finding the right habitat and using it, when you give them a chance,” Colville research scientist Casey Baldwin says.

This is the first step in a larger study funded by the reservation to determine if salmon can survive long-term in the upper river. So far, Baldwin says, the experiment looks promising.

“Our ancestors carried a prayer that our salmon would one day return to the Upper Columbia. With all the prayers that were made historically and today, combined with all the efforts of our fisheries staff, our leaders and many others who are joined in this effort, we can bring our fish home,” Colville Business Council chairman Rodney Cawston said in a statement.

“My grandma is probably up there just praying on us,” said tribal council member Norma Sanchez when she helped guide the fish into the water in 2019.

Norma Sanchez releasing salmon in 2019

“They used to eat fish as part of their daily lives. So much so that they were sick of fish. It’s a luxury now. To not have any fish is just making our tribe and this area sick.”