Protecting Our Salmon

salmon from BPA Flickr


Fish runs in the Columbia Basin, including on the Snake River, have seen record returns in recent years.  In 2014, salmon returned to the Columbia River Basin in the highest numbers in over 75 years.  Snake River sockeye saw the biggest returns to Redfish Lake this year since the species was listed on the endangered species list in 1991.  This proves that the efforts by the federal government and Northwest stakeholders are paying off.

Since 1978, the Northwest has spent over $14 billion on increasing salmon runs.  Improvements at the dams, such as turbine upgrades, mechanical bypass systems, and fish ladders, help salmon safely travel down the river and back up to spawn as adults. Overall, juvenile salmon survival past the eight large hydro projects, including the four Snake River dams, is averaging 97 percent collectively.  The dramatic increase in fish returns over the last ten years demonstrates the health of the fish runs.



 BPA and  US Army Corps of Engineers map showing salmon smolt survival past each dam on the Columbia and Snake Rivers

Current Successes

2014 saw the greatest number of fall salmon and steelhead returns ever. The 2014 fall run totaled 2.3 million salmon and steelhead and exceeded the past record, set in 2011, of 2.1 million and include Chinook, sockeye, steelhead, and coho salmon.  This is part of a wider trend where salmon return rates have almost doubled in 10 years.  Revenue from the Columbia and Snake river dams via the Bonneville Power Administration will to go towards investments that continue to improve fish passages at the dams.

The good news continued in 2015 with another year of great fish returns.  Over 2.3 million fish migrated past Bonneville Dam, which is the highest number recorded since counting began in 1938.  Snake River Chinook additionally posted their second highest returns ever, with over 456,000 fish migrating past McNary Dam and over 80,000 passing over the final dam on the Snake River, Lower Granite.


Snake River Sockeye 360 

Image credit click for larger image

Orcas and the Snake River dams

NOAA Fisheries released a fact sheet noting that Snake River dam removal likely would not play a significant role in the population levels of Southern Resident killer whales, sometimes referred to as Puget Sound orcas. While these orca pods do primarily subsist on salmon, the majority of their summer is spent in the Salish Sea in Puget Sound, feeding on adult salmon from the Fraser River in Canada. In winter, orcas continue to feed on West Coast salmon and will range from California to Alaska looking for prey. During this period they feed on salmon from watersheds along the coast, including the Columbia and Snake.

NOAA released a factsheet in 2016 to provide information to the public about these whales, their diet, and why breaching the Snake River Dams is not a reasonable or effective solution for orca recovery. There is no evidence to suggest a preference for wild versus hatchery fish in orca feeding patterns. Research shows that salmon abundance is the most important factor for orcas. With adult salmon returns at record or near record highs for most of our listed runs, NOAA finds that removing the Snake River dams would have negligible impact on Southern Resident killer whale populations.

killerwhales_southernresidents_NOAA image

Image Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Recent News on Snake River dams

Additional Information:

Pacific Northwest Waterways Association
Northwest RiverPartners
Snake River Dams fact sheet
Columbia River Basin Federal Caucus
Snake River Dams Value to the Nation
U.S. Army Corps Fish Myths and Facts fact sheet
U.S. Army Corps methane and dams fact sheet 
NOAA Fisheries Report on Southern Residents