Why are Columbia River steelhead having such a bad year?

Oregon Public Broadcasting

It’s an extremely tough year to be a steelhead.

Fish are returning from the Pacific Ocean back to their freshwater spawning grounds in some of the lowest numbers on record, prompting widespread fishery closures and dire warnings of a race toward extinction.

On the Columbia River, just about 54,000 steelhead have made it past Bonneville Dam as of this week. The count so far this year is less than a third of what it’s been the past 10 years on average.

“It seems like the bottom has just dropped out on steelhead,” said Laurie Weitkamp, a research fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Newport.

Columbia River steelhead runs have been gradually shrinking for the past decade, so a small run this year comes as little surprise in that regard. The dismal state of this year’s runs have exposed a critical gap in our understanding of steelhead and how they live.

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