Key players in regional restoration efforts gather to recognize the collaboration that is bringing more fish home
BONNEVILLE DAM, Ore. — The Northwest has plenty to celebrate: The region’s iconic salmon shattered modern-day records this year, returning to the Columbia River Basin in the highest numbers since fish counting began at Bonneville Dam more than 75 years ago.
This year’s run of about 2.3 million salmon and steelhead exceeds the previous record of 2.1 million set in 2011, according to the Fish Passage Center. This year also brought a new single-day record, when 67,521 adult fall Chinook passed by Bonneville Dam on September 8, 2014 – the highest one-day total in more than seven decades.
To celebrate this abundance, tribal and federal agency leaders and other rivers users gathered today at Bonneville Dam to welcome back the salmon and celebrate the collaboration that has helped significantly boost the number of salmon returning to Northwest rivers and streams. The strong collaboration continues to improve habitat and future prospects for many species, including those still listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Notably, tribal biologists are excited about the increasing number of natural origin fall Chinook returning to spawning grounds throughout the Columbia River Basin. For Snake River fall Chinook specifically, returns of natural origin fish are setting modern-day records—returning in recent years in the highest numbers since Snake River dam construction began. This year’s run should be close to last year’s record return.
Invited guests at today’s event included Congressional staff, decision-makers, biologists and others deeply involved in salmon restoration efforts. During brief remarks, agency and tribal leaders and other river users explained how working together for salmon, along with favorable ocean conditions, improved passage, successful hatchery programs, and a number of other factors are contributing to this year’s abundant returns.
Guests toured two areas that normally are closed to the public: the Adult Fish Sampling Facility, where Tribal Fish Technicians identify, measure and tag returning salmon, and the juncture at which Tanner Creek meets the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, where salmon swim from the creek into the hatchery.
The total 2014 fish counts include Chinook, sockeye, steelhead and coho salmon, although Chinook and sockeye account for the majority of the returns. Individual runs of Columbia and Snake River sockeye also set new records, returning in the highest numbers since fish counting began.
What Northwest leaders are saying about the modern-day record salmon returns:
Paul Lumley, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission:
"These returns are the result of everyone’s commitment to rebuild stronger salmon populations and provide a glimpse into what the region can accomplish when we work together. They should also remind us of the work that remains and give us renewed hope and purpose to fight for those populations that continue to struggle.”
Terry Flores, Executive Director of Northwest RiverPartners, an alliance of farmers, utilities, ports, businesses and other river users:
“As we celebrate the salmon’s incredible return home, it reminds us that these fish, our rivers and the dams can coexist, with the benefits flowing to all of our homes: the power that gives us light and creates jobs, the water for farmers to feed us and the world, and the cleanest renewable energy system in the nation that keeps our skies clear.”
Bill Bradbury, Chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council; former Oregon Sec. of State:
“These impressive runs give us hope that one of our primary efforts, improving habitat where salmon spawn, will be successful over the long term. We are working to connect areas of good habitat, restore ecosystems, remove fish-passage barriers, improve water quality and temperature, and in general provide a welcoming place for the salmon to come home to.”
Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator:
“These efforts to protect Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead represent one of the largest fish and wildlife programs in the nation. With our federal, state and tribal partners, we are continually improving conditions for salmon in the streams and tributaries, in hatcheries, in fish passage and on the river.”
Barry Thom, Deputy Regional Administrator for the West Coast Region of NOAA:
"The salmon are showing us that when the region works together and conditions cooperate, we have all the right ingredients for them to flourish.”