What is the story of Salmon in the Rocky Mountains?

salmon, spawning, fish

A sockeye salmon in its bright red spawning colors.

Yes, there are still some salmon in the Rocky Mountains.  Here are some historical and current facts about these fish in the Rocky Mountains.

If your timing has been right then you may have been lucky enough to see salmon swimming and spawning.  I have witnessed this a few times and have been impressed every time.  Salmon are amazing fish.  They used to live in huge numbers in the waters of the Rockies, but people have caused their numbers to decline.

salmon, fish, columbia river

The Columbia River basin.

Salmon In The Past

Millions of the fish used to live in the Columbia River System, which drains the Rockies of Idaho and includes the Salmon and Snake Rivers among others.  Estimates are that there used to be between 10 and 16 million salmon in the Columbia River basin every year!  They were an important food source for wildlife and people.

However, dams were built on many rivers as people moved into the area.  These dams blocked the river and did not allow the salmon to migrate upriver to spawn.  This, among other factors, led to a decline in their population.

Salmon in the Rocky Mountains Today

They are still one of the common fish that you may encounter in the Rocky Mountains.  However, estimates are that there are only between 200,000 and 300,000 fish in the Rocky Mountains every year in the Columbia River basin.

Salmon Lifecycle

They are born in a small, freshwater stream high up in the Rocky Mountains.

They spend about two years living in fresh water in the creek where they were born.  After that time they are overwhelmed by a biological urge to travel downstream.  The young fish make their way down towards the ocean.

As adults they spend many years living in the ocean.  Some day they are again overwhelmed by their genetic urge to return to the small creek where they were born in order to reproduce.  They attempt the long, difficult journey back upstream.  If successful, they will spawn.

salmon, spawning, fish,

Sockeye salmon trying to jump up a waterfall on their way to spawn.  Photo via Flickr.

Salmon Spawning Is End Of Their Life

Salmon spawning is the final part of their life.  The fish undertake a heroic effort just for the opportunity to spawn.   In order to return to their birthplace they must swim upstream past hungry bears, jumping up cascades and waterfalls.  Sometimes they must swim hundreds of miles just to get there.

Once they make it to their spawning beds, the males then have to compete with each other for the opportunity to spawn.  At this point they are only competing against the other tough and lucky males that also completed the difficult journey.  If they are victorious then they can have their glorious moments of spawning with a female.

salmon, spawning, fish

Photo via Flickr.

Salmon Die After Spawning

The culmination of all of their hard work is just for the chance to reproduce and pass on their genes to their babies.  Remember as I pointed out in an earlier post, it is all about survival of a species for animals.  They die soon after they spawn.

The fish will either die on the way to spawn or they will die after they spawn.  One way or another this story ends in their death.  The good news is that this effort will result in new baby salmon being born.