“Ocean-Type” Salmon, Including Endangered Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon

The second group of salmon, "ocean-type", begin heading for the sea very soon after they emerge from the gravel. They feed along the way, and move more slowly downstream. Sometimes traveling in schools, they will stop for days in spots along the river. Columbia and Snake River fall chinook salmon typically fall into this group of salmon.

This categorization between “stream-type” and “ocean-type” salmon is, like many biological concepts, only rough in nature. Many important salmon populations share some characteristics of both populations. For example, the Warm Springs run of spring chinook salmon is closer to fall chinook salmon in many ways than other groups of Columbia River spring chinook salmon.

Abundance estimates of fall chinook are sketchier than many other stocks. A fish wheel operator near The Dalles, Oregon wrote that that the fall chinook race, entirely absent in the 1920s, seemed to appear out of nowhere in 1933—"Why they came then, or from where, no one knows. Everyone was taken completely by surprise."12 The fall chinook seemed to displace the fall run of steelhead and coho; "there were a few steelhead left, but the silversides just completely disappeared".13

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that the historical high of the race now considered endangered, Snake River fall chinook, was 72,000. By the 1950s, when only Bonneville Dam had been completed, the run had already fallen to about 29,000.14 As of 1996, about 600 were counted at Lower Granite Dam.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed that endangered Snake River fall chinook salmon might be removed from the list of endangered species when 2,500 of them are observed to make it past Lower Granite Dam. But that many fall chinook salmon have never been counted at the Dam. In 1975, when the Dam was completed, only 1,000 were counted.15

12 F. Seufert, Wheels of Fortune 7 (Oregon Historical Society 1980).

13 Id.

14 B. Rudolph, “Fall Harvest Cuts Pay Small Dividend to Northwest Fishers”, Clearing Up, Dec. 16, 1996, at 7.

15 Id.

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