Facts: Where are all the Salmon?

The salmon are one of our best teachers. We learn from them that we have to do certain things by the seasons. We watch the salmon as smolts going to the ocean and observe them returning home. We see the many obstacles that they have to overcome. We see them fulfill the circle of life, just as we must do. If the salmon aren't here, the circle becomes broken and we all suffer.
-Leroy Seth, Nez Perce

About Fish Hatcheries

fish hatchery

At first, fish hatcheries seem to be a great way to protect salmon species from extinction. In protected and controlled environments, millions of salmon eggs hatch and millions of salmon fry grow to smolt-hood without risk of predation. And all these millions of protected smolts can then be released into the rivers and the ocean to grow into salmon adults that will find their way home. That's the theory.

In the 1800s, hatcheries were built not to protect salmon from extinction, but to produce even more salmon. The idea was to increase the numbers of salmon for anglers and commercial fishermen. More salmon = higher catch rates = boon for the economy. In the 1900s, the rationale shifted as dams began destroying huge numbers of salmon. The idea was to produce enough salmon in hatcheries to replace the salmon being killed or blocked by dams.

salmon swimming upstream

Both rationales sounded good. Neither of them worked. A century of hatchery management and release of billions of hatchery-raised salmon has not stopped the decline of wild salmon.

Click here to learn more about what's happening to hatchery salmon.

Other Obstacles

Former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus says: "Many factors have contributed to the decline of the Northwest salmon runs, but only one — the eight giant federal dams and the intransigent agencies that operate them — put the fish at the brink of extinction."

Click here to learn more about why dams are so dangerous for salmon.

Did you know?

Worldwide, more salmon are available now than in the last fifty years.

Explanation: The collapse of salmon in the Pacific Northwest coincided with huge production through fishing in Alaska and British Columbia. During the same time, salmon farms in Norway and Chile produced one billion pounds of fish in one year.

Other obstacles that salmon face in migration

  • Sedimentation: excess amounts of silt and other particles entering the water can smother salmon eggs and trap or block salmon.
  • Loss of Cover: without cover, salmon have no protection or shade relief.
  • Pollution: affects water quality, and thus, affects salmon.

In the next section, you can explore the what can be done to restore salmon.

salmon swimming upstream
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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