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US scientists revive idea to save orcas

Last Updated Sep 21, 2018 at 11:40 pm PDT

(Courtesy DamSense.org)
Summary

The proposal involves breaching four dams on a salmon-rich river in Washington State

The Lower Snake River used to see 16 million salmon return every year

KENNEWICK, WA (NEWS 1130) – An idea to revive salmon stocks is getting a second look, thanks to the recent deaths of Southern Resident Killer Whales off our coast over the last month.

The killer whales, which are endangered, eat salmon almost exclusively. They move between southeastern Alaska and central California.

The proposal would see four dams in southern Washington State breached in order to facilitate the migration of salmon.

According to a 2015 report, the Snake and Columbia Rivers once produced more Chinook salmonĀ than any other river system in the world. Up to 16 million wild salmon returned to the Snake/Columbia basin every year. However, only one per cent of that number currently return to the watershed.

Scientists like Kelly Iriye of the website Dam Sense are advocating breaching, or putting notches in the dirt walls next to the four dams on the Lower Snake River.

“The Snake River has the potential for upwards of eight million smolts, which are the young salmon, per year if we get rid of all the dams.”

It’s not a new idea, but Iriye says it’s time to reconsider it, given other efforts to save the salmon from that river, including trucking salmon upstream and fish ladders, have failed.

“We haven’t actually moved anywhere towards the recovery rate. In fact, we’re moving toward extinction with these species. The only thing we haven’t left that we haven’t tried is to remove the earthen berms and breach these dams.”

And the quality of the fish has deteriorated as well.

“The Chinook were over 30 pounds, and now we’re seeing Chinook come back half that size in the 18 pound range. So not only are the orcas having less food, they also have smaller fish,” says Iriye.

She admits the deaths of J50 this month and a calf last month off our coast was the impetus for raising the issue again.

“We are using that momentum to say ‘Don’t let them die in vain. Don’t let their deaths be for nothing.’ We’ve got to make this happen now.”

To that end, Dam Sense has launched a petition and is organizing a rally in Portland to pressure The Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the operation of the dams, to consider the breaching concept.