It’s been nearly 80 years since salmon and steelhead made it past Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams in Washington’s Upper Columbia Basin. It’s long been a goal for tribes to see the fish return to the blocked waters where they once spawned.
A team of researchers presented their findings on Tuesday to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. In short, they said, salmon can survive in the upper reaches of the Columbia Basin, and fish passage needs to happen at the two dams.
For several years biologists have looked into scenarios for salmon above the dams – if there was enough habitat available, if pathogens and predators wouldn’t cause too much damage, if there were even ways to get the fish around the concrete structures.
“We feel strongly it’s time to start investing in the Upper Columbia. We’ve been the most impacted and the least mitigated, so it’s important to look at how that funding hasn’t made it above (the dams), just like the salmon,” said John Sirois, with the Upper Columbia United Tribes.
To bring fish back to the region, the researchers looked at 40 different stocks of fish and five different species.
Baseline estimates show there could be up to 24,000 harvested adult summer and fall chinook, with 14,000 fish making it past anglers.