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Sockeye Salmon in Idaho’s Columbia River are Dying by the Truckload

sockeye salmon
Flickr / NPS, D. Young

Increased water temperatures in the Columbia River in Idaho are quickly killing migrating sockeye salmon.

The unusually low water levels and warm temperatures of the Columbia River are killing off sockeye salmon as they migrate from the ocean to their spawning grounds.

The Columbia River is at its lowest level in nearly 60 years, and record temperatures for most of the summer have heated the water to over 70 degrees.

The cold water fish are dropping like flies. Sockeye get stressed at temperatures over 68 degrees and stop migrating at temperatures over 74 degrees.

“Right now it’s grim for adult sockeye,” said Russ Kiefer from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “They’re running out of energy reserves, and we’re getting a lot of reports of fish dead and dying.”

In an effort to save the distressed sockeye, Idaho state fisheries captured as many as they could and took them to their hatcheries to recover. Out of the 4,000 they captured, less than one fourth survived.

Their only option now is to try to cool the waters as much as possible for the remaining sockeye to finish their migrations. Department officials are pouring colder water from various reservoirs into the river, which they hope will cool the water temperature to below 70 degrees.

“We had a really big migration of sockeye,” said Ritchie Graves of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The thing that really hurts is we’re going to lose a majority of those fish.”

Federal and state fisheries estimate over half of the 500,000 migrating sockeye will not survive.

The hope is that the drought will end soon, allowing the river to rise and cool before chinook salmon and steelhead begin their migrations later this summer. If not, they will meet the same fate as the sockeye salmon.

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Sockeye Salmon in Idaho’s Columbia River are Dying by the Truckload