Aug 18, 2017

Steelhead are in hot water — and struggling in record low numbers

The Dalles, OR
USA
by
Lynda V. Mapes
,
The Seattle Times
A scientific literature review last year of climate change and its effects on Northwest salmon notes that extreme heat events are more likely in the future. Photo: Rick Bowmer
A scientific literature review last year of climate change and its effects on Northwest salmon notes that extreme heat events are more likely in the future. Photo: Rick Bowmer

Salmon and steelhead are in hot water — a problem scientists warn is going to get worse because of climate change.

Steelhead returning this year to the Columbia and Snake rivers migrated out of the river during horrendous conditions in 2015, which included record low flows and high water temperatures.

Those steelhead also were at sea during the so-called “blob” — a mass of warm water that began forming off the West Coast in 2013 and wreaked havoc in the ocean, including depressed food supplies for marine animals of all sorts.

Now those steelhead are migrating back through reservoirs where water temperatures at some Columbia and Lower Snake River dams, thanks to a record Northwest heat wave, have been stuck this summer above 70 degrees for days on end — potentially lethal for salmon and steelhead.

“They are just getting creamed everywhere they turn; conditions in the Columbia and Snake are the worst I have ever seen them,” said Steve Petit, a steelhead biologist with Idaho Fish and Game for 32 years before retiring, he hoped, to fish the Clearwater River that runs past his home.