Bonneville Power Administration
Salmon observation window at the Bonneville Dam.

Northwest Tribes Celebrate Highest Fall Fish Returns to Columbia River Basin in 75 Years: CRITFC


The fall Chinook salmon return is still on track to blast through previous records, with this year surpassing even last year’s, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) announced in September.

“For the second consecutive year, fall Chinook salmon returning to the Columbia River Basin are shattering modern-day records,” the CRITFC said in a statement last month. “The Northwest’s iconic fish are returning in numbers not seen since 1938—more than 75 years ago—when counting began after construction of the Bonneville Dam.”

RELATED: Northwest Tribes Exult as Nearly One Million Chinook Return to Columbia River

In total, a record 2.3 million salmon and steelhead returned, exceeding the 2.1 million record set in 2011, the commission said, quoting figures from the Fish Passage Center. A single-day record was set on September 8, when 67,521 adult fall Chinook passed the Bonneville Dam, the CRITFC said.

Tribal and federal officials gathered on September 30 to celebrate along with others who use the river at Bonneville Dam “to welcome back the salmon and celebrate the collaboration that has helped significantly boost the number of salmon returning to Northwest rivers and streams,” the CRITFC said in a statement. “The strong collaboration continues to improve habitat and future prospects for many species, including those still listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

These 2014 totals include Chinook, sockeye, steelhead and coho salmon, the commission said, with Chinook and sockeye making up the majority of the runs. Also returning in the highest numbers since counting began 75 years ago were individual runs of Columbia and Snake River sockeye, the CRITFC said.

A growing number of natural-origin fall Chinook also returned to Columbia River Basin spawning grounds, the commission said, sparking enthusiasm among tribal biologists. Snake River fall Chinook in particular set modern-day records for natural-origin fish, the CRITFC said.

RELATED: Fall Chinook Salmon Spawn in Record Numbers in Snake River

Coho salmon are continuing to make a phenomenal showing, the commission said.

“The records keep coming in on the 2014 Columbia River salmon run,” the commission posted on its Facebook page on October 2. “So far this year, 6,262 coho have passed Lower Granite Dam, breaking the previous record of 5,060 set in 2011. On average, the coho run is only 30% complete by now, so this record is still being set. Yesterday alone, 990 coho passed Lower Granite, nearly equaling the total of coho passing the dam between 1977 and 1999 (998 fish during that 23-year period).”

Several factors contributed to the success of the runs, the commission said, with cooperation between interested parties being a cornerstone. Favorable ocean conditions, improved passage, successful hatchery programs and other factors also played a role, the CRITFC said.

"These returns are the result of everyone’s commitment to rebuild stronger salmon populations and provide a glimpse into what the region can accomplish when we work together,” CRITFC Executive Director Paul Lumley said in the statement. “They should also remind us of the work that remains and give us renewed hope and purpose to fight for those populations that continue to struggle.”

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