Oregon’s coho salmon run breaks record, steelhead numbers decline
Record-breaking numbers of coho salmon have made their way home. Find out more here.
LOSTINE — A record-shattering number of coho has made the long journey from their home streams to the ocean and back.
Nearly 24,000 coho salmon have made passage through the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River — the last dam between the ocean and the Grande Ronde and Wallowa rivers.
The prior record, set in 2014, saw 18,098 coho make their way past the Lower Granite Dam. In recent years, those numbers have fluctuated between 1,449 and 8,178, with 2020 seeing just 7,797 coho return to the Lower Granite Dam. The run this year marks a more than 300% increase from the previous year.
Part of that return could be attributed to the Nez Perce Tribe’s monumental work to reintroduce coho to the Clearwater Basin in the late 1990s, and recently in the Lostine River in 2017. The tribe’s efforts returned the salmon to the Lostine River after it was bereft of the silvery fish for more than 40 years.
“Salmon are a really amazing, resilient creature, and if you just give them half a chance, if you provide the right conditions, the habitat and the clean water — I’ve been impressed with what they can do,” Johnson said.
To be sure, not every coho released into the Lostine would return — predation and harvesting take their toll, as do natural diseases and parasites. Many more would return to different streams to spawn, in a process called straying. Still, the return is more than welcomed, and their journey was a long one in both length and time.
“We have a lot of work, we’ve only just begun really, but I know from our experience from over here in the Clearwater that it can be really successful,” Johnson said.
“I want to put it in context, though,” Johnson said, “because you know coho used to be very abundant up here just like spring chinook and fall chinook and steelhead. Historically, there were probably about 200,000 coho that returned here (to the Lostine River). So we’re super excited — happy to see this return of coho this year, but also want to contextualize that this is a mere fraction of what it used to be like here.”
According to Johnson, the program to reintroduce coho to the Lostine is based on the tribe’s success in the Clearwater Basin. The tribe reintroduced the salmon to the Clearwater and Snake basin areas in the late 1990s. Before then, the fish were extinct in the area.
“Those fish have survived,” Johnson said. “They’ve not only migrated out as juveniles for 600 or so miles over eight dams to the ocean, but then they also turned around and came back up those eight dams over those 600 miles, so we want to use those genetics, you know that stamina from those adults for the next generation. That’s what we did on the Clearwater, and it’s been pretty successful.”