Climate change is cooking salmon in the Pacific Northwest

(Nexus Media News, 28 Jan 2019) Warmer waters in the Pacific Northwest are killing salmon before they can reproduce.

The Tulalip Indian Reservation sits on the east side of the Puget Sound, about 40 miles north of Seattle, Washington, where the change in seasons is marked by the arrival and departure of salmon. At the heart of the reservation is Tulalip Bay, where salmon return every spring and fall before swimming upstream to spawn.

In tribal folklore, the Tulalip people are descended from salmon. As Cary Williams, who works at the tribe’s cultural center, tells the story, the ancient salmon saw people walking on land and wanted to become human. When they asked the grandfather salmon to give them human form, he granted their wish and told them, “I will take care of you, but you must take care of me.”

But it has become increasingly difficult for the Tulalip people to care for the salmon. Since the 1980s, wild Pacific salmon have faced a sharp decline due to overfishing, habitat loss and pollution, leaving several local populations threatened or endangered. Now, climate change is further imperiling the fish.

Recent summers in the Pacific Northwest have been beset by record heat, and higher water temperatures are killing the adult salmon before they can reproduce. Pacific Salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend their juvenile years in freshwater streams and rivers, before moving on to estuaries, and then, in their adult years, the open ocean. Adults return to the streams where they were born at the end of their lives to spawn. Extreme heat has made this journey particularly treacherous.

“The biggest issues we’ve had are the warm summers,” said Trevor Jenison, who manages the Wallace River State Hatchery in Washington state. “Salmon don’t like warm water. They’re a cold water fish. Once we start getting up past 65 degrees, they’re still okay, but we start running into disease issues.”

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Nexus Media News, 28 Jan 2019: Climate change is cooking salmon in the Pacific Northwest