SciSun: Salmon on the Run   Leave a comment

What are the salmon running from? What are they running to? How can they run, when they don’t even have legs or feet? And does this have anything do to with the 70’s song ‘Band on the Run’?

Actually, the annual migration of salmon from the ocean, back to the streams and inlets where they were born, is called a Salmon Run. And this year, there are more Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) making that trip through the Columbia River in Washington than anytime on record since 1938. Maybe they’re all coming home for the holidays.

Since early September, and through much of November, over one million Chinook – the largest of all Pacific salmon – have been counted (yes, there are people who count every fish. No, we don’t know how they tell them apart), with over 60,000 on one day alone and over 8 million as the total count for all salmon in this region. And this is only from the Columbia Basin in Washington and Idaho – returning fish are being counted throughout the Pacific Northwest, and overall the numbers are healthy and passing early-year estimates.

Each Fall season, Chinook, Steelhead, Sockeye, Coho and other populations of salmon – thirteen different types, of five distinct species in all – take the perilous and demanding journey (hey, this is just like traveling for the holidays!) from the ocean, where they live as adults, to the small streams where they lived and grew as youngsters (named ‘fry’; ‘parr’ and ‘smolt’, depending on the age); where now, they find compatible mates to assure the species will survive; then lay eggs; and die. Yes, all this travel just to expire once the hard work is done. However for thousands of years, as long as the salmon have made this fateful journey, there have been Native Peoples depending on the bounty of fish (some Pacific Northwest native nations based much of their lifestyle on the salmon migration, as well as other annual and seasonal events); and there are usually bears and raccoons and gulls and eagles and other animals waiting for the forthcoming salmon buffet, so while the individual salmon don’t exactly benefit from this trip, in healthy ecosystems little is left for waste.

In the Columbia Basin one of the main reasons researchers believe the salmon populations are so healthy is due to more diligent and responsible decisions to care for the environment, including removing invasive species that eat or out-compete the young salmon; cleaning streams of trash, silt and debris; and insuring the fish have a fighting chance at survival and a long (by salmon standards), healthy life. Significantly, changes have been undertaken in the operation of regional dams; particularly the Bonneville Lock and Dam on the Columbia River, built in the 1930’s to generate hydroelectric power for the immediate area and parts of California. Portions of the dam have been modified to make the structure more safe for young, small salmon and precautions added that allow fish to pass with less effort and stress. Since 2006, by adjusting spring and summer spill (the amount of water released over a dam) young salmon can be directed away from power-generating turbines associated with the dams and pushed downstream toward the ocean. And the more young salmon that make it to the ocean and grow into adult salmon, means more of those big fish traveling back to their home-streams two to eight years later. (On the trip back, salmon swim over the dam using a fish ladder. Really. But it’s more like a set of wide underwater stairs the fish swim up one step at a time. ‘Fish Stairs’ sounds silly. ‘Fish Ladder’ makes much more sense).

So, if the trend of more and more returning salmon continues, things will be looking bright for the Pacific Salmon. That is, until the end of their journey when the salmon fulfill their purpose and die. But at least they had a good run.


Michonne Says: That was a sad story. If I see any saloman I’ll tell them not to go on that trip and then they’d be OK. There has to be better places to go where you’re safer.

Posted December 8, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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