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Securing a salmon salvation

Updated: Apr 18

By Claire Chang Apr. 3, 2024

Mingyue Xiao Art

Due to the construction of private dams, overfishing and human overpopulation, the salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest continues to deplete. Due to overfishing, overpopulation of humans and the construction of private dams, Consequently, Indigenous tribes have struggled to not only bring food to the table, but also sustain their traditions. The Biden administration has come to the tribes’ aid by implementing the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative to promote clean energy and increase the salmon population.

Indigenous tribes on the West Coast—specifically the Yurok tribe—have been advocating since over a century ago for the removal of four dams along the Klamath River, which stretches from northern California to southern Oregon, and is an integral part of the Yurok lifestyle. For over 10,000 years, the Klamath River previously boasted the third -largest salmon population in the entire West Coast. It has since lost that title with the collapse of the salmon population, and three species now being listed as endangered.

Scientists of federal fisheries believe that the most efficient way to return natural habitat and spawning grounds to the salmon would be to remove dams built across the Pacific Northwest. Flood control dams such as the Chief Joseph Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam have prevented anadromous fish, such as—fish like salmon and trout which return to freshwater environments from seawater ones to spawn, —from swimming upstream, decreasing the quantity of salmon capable of reaching their spawning grounds and reproducing. With less fish to go around, local Indigenous people have been forced to alter their eating habits and are unable to pass on traditions to future generations. Meanwhile, according to CBS, one of four of the Klamath River dams in California have been taken down.

Mingyue Xiao Art

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been working to establish donor stocks to reintroduce the fish and develop hatcheries; the state agency reports that there are over 3 million hatchery fish awaiting their return to the wild. By shoring up salmon populations back upstream of the Klamath River dams, the tribal people will once again be reunited with a keystone of their culture.

Though the plan sets up for the eventual removal of dams, Republican lawmakers have pushed back, arguing that this will cause greater problems, such as interfering with irrigation systems in the surrounding area. As the provider of over a third of the nation’s hydropower, taking the Snake River dams down will take away a significant energy resource.

“The federal government should take down one more dam to see if that worsens the soil deposit. If the salmon still cannot navigate, then there is no point in taking out all of the dams because the salmon are going to suffer anyway. The plan is encouraging Indigenous tribes and the government to work together more so that the government can take tribal traditions into greater consideration,” Senior Daniel Xu said.

Earlier this year, 830,000 hatchery fish were introduced upstream of the Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River, only to have died after facing high water pressure and being trapped in dam tunnels that allow for the river to flow through. Future hatchery fish will be introduced downstream instead to avoid getting trapped while the dams are still in operation.

“This plan seems to try to make up for the wrongs that were done to Indigenous tribes in the past, and could serve as a catalyst for similar steps to be taken in the future since they have supporters standing by them in the government. Hopefully, this will give Indigenous people the courage to speak up more,” Sophomore Adrian Murillo said.

For much of U.S. history, the government has refused to give a voice to treated Indigenous people horribly by not giving them a voice in legislative processes andor decisions, forcibly expelling them from their own land through the Indian Removal Act of 1830, assimilating Indigenous people into American culture by force through the infamous boarding school programs in the 20th century and countless other policies. Thus, Indigenous groups feel that attempts to restore the salmon population and protect their culture and traditions is one of the first significant steps that the American government has ever taken for them.


About the Contributors

Claire Chang

staff writer

Claire Chang is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer and photo-media team member for The Charger Account. She enjoys painting, listening to music and exercising during her free time.

Mingyue Xiao


Mingyue Xiao is a freshman at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. She does dance, pottery and loves to read.

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