Facts: Salmon Culture

Salmon and Tribes

Everywhere that salmon swim, they have become a part of the local culture. People from Japan to Russia value salmon and include them in various ceremonies. And from Alaska to California, salmon have formed the base of tribal cultures.

Inuit fish image

Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, encountered salmon immediately after crossing the continental divide into the watershed of the Lemhi River. Lewis and his companions were out of food. The Shoshone offered the men salmon, along with other food. By the time the expedition reached the mouth of the Columbia River, they had seen Chinook, Sockeye, and coho salmon. They had also observed many tribes catching the fish, eating the fish, and preserving the fish for future consumption.

Did you know?

There are six species of salmon that swim into the rivers of the northern Pacific.

Salmon In the Twentieth Century

Leaping salmon

By the time Idaho became a state in 1890, Oregon and Washington were already protecting the salmon. For example, Oregon's constitution prohibited damming of rivers unless fish passages were included. Washington followed with a similar law.

In the 20th century, though, even though people knew that salmon were in trouble, little was done to stop their decline. Politicians and engineers ignored Washington state's law requiring dams to provide fish bypasses. Illegal dams were built and within a few years, the hundreds of thousands of salmon that used to migrate up this river were gone. The celebrated Grand Coulee Dam was an engineering feat, but an ecological disaster. It blocked salmon from the entire upper Columbia River Basin, which includes Idaho's panhandle.

Fisheries biologists and engineers have tried many methods for helping salmon, but the salmon population is still decreasing. Salmon, though, remain an important symbol for everyone living in the Pacific Northwest.

Spawning salmon

Salmon have provided social continuity and heritage for many Americans including American Indian tribes, non-Indian fishing communities, generations of sports anglers, and the general public of the Northwest who have adopted salmon as a regional symbol. Biologists and educators hope that if more people understand these amazing fish and the politics behind their decline, more people will understand why some drastic measures are being considered to help salmon!

In the next section, you can begin reading about the salmon and why they are the symbol of clean streams and the wonders of animal migration.

Thanks to Idaho Fish and Game and Project WILD for all of their help and information. All information in these sites from "Wild About Salmon" is copyrighted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Project WILD, 1999. Written permission was granted to use this material for educational purposes.
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