A new analysis issued by Columbia Basin Tribes and First Nations surveys historic salmon migration to the Upper Columbia and proposes a four-step process to study reintroducing salmon via fish passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams in the U.S., and Keenleyside, Brilliant and Waneta dams in British Columbia.
The study, “Fish Passage and Reintroduction Into the U.S. and Canadian Upper Columbia River” is authored by several intertribal organizations representing 15 Native American Tribes in the U.S. Columbia basin, and several First Nations in British Columbia. The study provides a brief history of the construction and management of Columbia River dams and the consequent devastating impact on salmon populations and the native peoples who depended on salmon for food, trade, and culture.
Prior to dam construction, 1.1 million sockeye, Chinook, steelhead and coho salmon returned to the rivers above Grand Coulee, of which about 644,000 fish were harvested by tribal members. Total salmon consumption ranged from 6.8 to 13.1 million pounds per year. Salmon was a key component of the diet of Upper Columbia Tribes and First Nations prior to extirpation.
The survey of rivers and lakes that once supported salmon species is impressive. In the U.S. that list includes the Spokane, Little Spokane, Hangman, Sanpoil, Kettle, Colville, Pend Oreille, and Kootenai Rivers. In British Columbia, salmon inhabited the Kootenay, Slocan, and Salmo Rivers, and the Columbia River lakes all the way to the headwaters, including the Lower and Upper Arrow, Windermere and Columbia Lakes, and others.
The Tribes propose a multi-step process to evaluate fish passage technology, donor fish stocks, the quantity and quality of habitat, and hydrosystem operating changes that would be necessary to accommodate salmon reintroduction. Studies would also evaluate the socio-economic benefits of returning salmon to the Upper Columbia basin, for Tribes and First Nations, and non-native peoples, including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishers.
The study was prepared as part of the preparation for negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada, expected to get underway this year.